In the days since America began its bombing campaign against al
Qaeda terrorist camps and strategic military targets in Afghanistan, US
newspapers and TV screens have been reporting almost daily protests that
have turned violent in a number of cities in neighboring Pakistan.
Pakistan is viewed as a key ally in the war against terrorism, since it
can provide logistical support to land-locked Afghanistan. But there is
concern that President Pervez Musharref, who came to power in a military
coup two years ago, does not speak for all Pakistanis when he says he
supports the war against terrorism. The chief fear at work is based on
concern that Islamic radicals could topple Musharref in Pakistan, which
is a nuclear power.
US media coverage during the first few days of the campaign depicted a
rabid anti-Americanism in the daily protests in Pakistan, organized by
the hard-line Islamic political parties. Baltimore's The Sun (October
13) published a front-page story that told of a 10-year-old boy
addressing a crowd of 10,000 "that he dreamed of pulling an American's
eyes out of his sockets."
Reports widely covered the call for a jihad against Americans on behalf
of Osama bin Laden, the Taliban government of Afghanistan, and
The Washington Post (October 15) quoted sources in Pakistan that said,
"There is an emerging current of anti-Americanism that is turning people
by default into Taliban sympathizers." Although most Pakistanis were
depicted as not previously too supportive of either the Taliban or bin
Laden, the US presents a common enemy and a chance to join forces.
But despite the grim images of looting, violence, and destruction, just
more than half of the coverage monitored by CARMA reported that, for
now, the majority of Pakistanis were at least grudgingly supporting
Mushar-ref's alignment with the US.
A Pakistani editor helped the Chicago Tribune (October 14) put the
protests in their local context, noting "street protests are a fact of
life in Pakistan's turbulent political landscape, and typically attract
up to 100,000 people ... The few thousand who have turned out in
different cities to protest the air strikes suggests there is not
widespread opposition to Musharref's policy." CNN (October 12) said that
in a country of 150 million people, a few thousand protesters "is simply
a drop in the bucket."
But the media also cautioned that the longer the military campaign goes
on, the more patience will wear thin in Pakistan. In particular, there
is concern that Pakistan will be flooded with Afghan refugees and then
be tasked with cleaning up after America's mess. Furthermore, reports of
civilian deaths by US bombs are already said to be making moderate
Pakistanis more receptive to anti-American sentiment.
Media reports are already noting indications that the unrest is growing
within Pakistan. Although some say it's just increased rhetoric from the
same people, others say the number of protesters is growing. Other
Muslim countries have also had anti-American demonstrations.
A retired Pakistani general told The Washington Post, "This is a war of
hearts and minds, and ordinary people can get Talibanized in the
process." The US will need to tread carefully. Even if it eradicates bin
Laden and the al Qaeda network quickly, it will likely take a long time
to change the image of the US in that part of the world.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found