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Pakistanis Protest US Strikes in Afghanistan - 2001-10-18

Pakistan's religious parties have staged numerous demonstrations to protest their government's support for the U.S. led military campaign in Afghanistan aimed at flushing out Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

In Islamabad Thursday, hundreds of Pakistani professionals took to the streets to voice their opposition to the bombing of sites in neighboring Afghanistan.

The organizers of Thursday's protest, amid the traffic of downtown Islamabad, took great pains not to cause too much disruption. The scene marked a stark contrast to noisy and sometimes violent protests led by religious leaders across Pakistan.

One familiar site Thursday was the large presence of riot police. But high-tech worker Altif Mundaz said he does not think there will be any trouble. "Basically that is government's decision to bring the police in, but we are not here to create riots or break windows or burn cars or anything. We are just here to condemn the attacks in a peaceful manner," he said. "And it did stay peaceful. There were no burning effigies of President Bush or Pakistan's military ruler President Pervez Musharraf. Osama bin Laden's picture was nowhere to be seen.

Thursday's protesters, many of them wearing suits and ties, made little noise as they marched neatly down one of Islamabad's main streets," he said. "They say they were sickened by the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 5,000 people in the United States, but they say the U.S. response is inflicting terror on innocent Afghans".

A banker who would only give her name as Nina, says she is sick of hearing that only, as she puts it, the religious fanatics are opposed to the U.S. led campaign. "Because all of us are against the strikes. But we don't belong to that strata of society that usually demonstrates on roads, but that does not mean that we don't have feelings against the strikes," she says.

Few doubt the troubles facing President Musharraf, since he threw his support behind the U.S. led campaign against terrorism. A recent poll says 83 percent of Pakistanis sympathize with the Taleban.

But as President Musharraf himself pointed out, that poll also showed a bright spot for his government. "The majority of the population of Pakistan, are with my government's action. That also is a result of that same poll that you are talking of," he said.

But it is hardly a comfortable majority, only 51 percent.

But for now, General Musharraf is managing to quell many of those rallying against his government, especially the professionals who did not turn out Thursday. Many of them are seeing promise in their country's new-found friendship with the United States, which has recently ended sanctions and promised economic assistance for Pakistan.

Photos by Jon Tkach, VOA