ISLAMABAD: Anti-American protests by religious parties broke out in several Pakistani cities on Friday, a day after political leaders joined in rejecting US accusations that Islamabad was supporting militants.
Charges by a top US general that Pakistan’s spy agency had supported this month’s attack on the US mission in Kabul has added to anti-American sentiment in a country where a poll in June showed that almost two-thirds of the population considered the United States an enemy.
“The prevailing view in Pakistan is that because of our alignment with the United States, our problems have increased,” said Talat Masood, a retired general and military analyst.
“America’s view is the opposite: ‘Because you are not aligning yourself with us, your problems are increasing.’”
“This,” he said, “is the whole dilemma at the moment.”
In Hyderabad, about 900 people from an anti-Shia group whose militant arm has been accused of killing thousands of Pakistani Shias since the 1990s, burned an effigy of US President Barack Obama and chanted “America is a murderer”.
In Lahore, at least 800 people protested at the headquarters of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan’s biggest religious party. “Go, America, Go!” rose from the angry crowd.
Another protest by JI in Peshawar, northwest of Islamabad, drew around 200 people. They walked a donkey over an American flag laid on the road, and chanted “America’s Graveyard – Waziristan, Waziristan”, referring to the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan that is a hotbed of militant groups.
“Give peace a chance”
The previous evening, dozens of political parties emerged from a conference, condemning US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s accusations of state links to violent militants as “baseless allegations”.
They also pledged to seek a political settlement with militants on both sides of the border.
“There has to be a new direction and policy with a focus on peace and reconciliation,” their declaration read.
“Pakistan must initiate a dialogue with a view to negotiate peace with our own people in the tribal areas.”
A military official said the army, which has lost 6,500 troops in the 10 years since Pakistani allied with the United States in the war on militancy following the September 2001 attacks, supported this policy.
“Our approach to this is that since we are operating against our own people, success isn’t defined by how many people you kill or what area you clear but if the ultimate goal of peace and stability is being achieved or not,” he said.
The United States has long pressed its ally Pakistan to pursue the Haqqani network, one of the most lethal Taliban-allied Afghan groups fighting Western forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan denies it supports the Haqqanis and says its army is too stretched battling its own Taliban insurgency to go after the network, which has between 10,000-15,000 fighters.
The group says it no longer has havens in Pakistan, feeling secure enough to operate in Afghanistan. Pakistani military officials say “no more than 10 percent” of the thousands of fighters operate in Pakistan and the rest are in Afghanistan.
One senior US official said that despite the harsh words of the past week and bust-ups of the last year, including after the May 2 raid by US forces that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, there had been no further deterioration in military-to-military relations and intelligence sharing.
“I see no signs that things have fallen off the cliff,” the official said. “No sign that they have taken a step backward.”
Watch a slideshow of pictures from today’s protest here.