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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
Analysis: Pakistan's fault lines
Protesters in Lahore
Pro-Taleban supporters have grabbed the headlines
Daniel Lak

From the Arabian sea coast, to the remote valleys of Karakoram mountain range at the roof of the world there is no more vexing question in Pakistan at the moment than the attacks on Afghanistan, the Taleban and Osama Bin Laden.

This is a nation founded as a homeland for South Asian Muslims, yet different views of the Islamic faith abound.

Many Pakistanis are struggling with their reaction to events in Afghanistan and they will continue to do so

At independence from Britain in 1947, nearly 90%t of Pakistanis lived in the countryside.

Now fewer than 70% are farmers or villagers - the cities are growing vast and unwieldy.

Like so many developing countries, Pakistan's process of modernising is fraught with difficulty and constantly throwing up fault lines.

A common stance on almost every important issue is hugely difficult to forge, even for a military government like that led by President Pervez Musharraf.

Tribal differences

So the journalist and the politician, military planner and pollster all reach for anecdote and illustration to search for Pakistan's opinion.

This can be hugely misleading.

Here in Quetta, close to the border with the Taleban heartland of Kandahar, it would seem that support for the Islamic students' militia is fierce and obstinately loyal.

US flag stamped on in Karachi
Protests became violent after the US-led attacks

But not necessarily.

For one thing, this area - often described in the international media as "tribal" is home to more than one tribe.

The ethnic Baluch, who give this province of Baluchistan its name, have not embraced the Taleban with anything like the fervour of their Pashtun cousins.

The Baluch have a more rugged, secular and tribal nationalist tradition than the Pashtun. So too among the Pashtun are disagreements over the Taleban.

Traditional tribal leaders are divided - some support the Afghan militia, others do not.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
The president is at odds with many Pakistanis over his support for the US
Pashtun leftist or nationalist parties have openly supported exiled former King Zahir Shah.

This is also true, although to a lesser extent, in the North-western Frontier Province and its capital, Peshawar.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, there are also anomalies that go beyond economic divides or urban-rural rivalries.

Open opposition

In cities like Karachi or Lahore, where healthy economies and government patronage have spawned an English-speaking, globalised elite, there is no love lost for the Taleban and their rigorous view of Islam.

A society without music, films and television is unthinkable to such people.

In Karachi, the largest political force the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has openly opposed the Taleban and the Pakistani religious parties that support it.

Pro-Taleban protester in Lahore
Taleban supporters have taken to the streets of Pakistan
The MQM represents the majority of Karachi residents, Muslims from what is now India who migrated at partition.

Even in the countryside, opinion about the Taleban and religious extremism is not particularly supportive.

Most Pakistanis follow a school of Islamic thought that is rich is music, dance, poetry and even mysticism from the Sufi tradition.

They reject Taleban notions that folk songs and dances, films, fancy weddings, paying homage to Pirs or Muslim saints are somehow un-Islamic.

None of this is to say that there is not deep unease in this country over the air strikes in Afghanistan.

Refugees are concern

There is fear of the destabilisation that US-led forces could bring as they ostensibly fight "terrorism".

There is concern about a new flow of Afghan refugees - Pakistan has hosted up to three million Afghans over the past 20 years of fighting in its war-ravaged neighbour.

Many Pakistanis are struggling with their reaction to events in Afghanistan and they will continue to do so.

A hard, Islamist extreme has made up its mind to fight against the attacks.

A liberal tendency in urban areas sees an opportunity to curb the influence of the Islamists.

But in the middle, the vast majority of Pakistani opinion is uneasy with both the "war against terror" and its targets - the Taleban and Osama Bin Laden.

How this country resolves that dilemma will be crucial to its future.

See also:

06 Oct 01 | South Asia
Kabul's faded vibrancy
04 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistan distances itself from Taleban
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Afghanistan's future
11 Jan 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugees' unending plight
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
The wild border town of Quetta
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