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Pakistan's growing anti-US anger

Students protest about the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Lahore, 29 October

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Islamabad

Recently, while Pakistan's government may have been saying the things that the White House wants to hear, the country's media and public have often been openly hostile towards the United States.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's charm offensive this week suggests that she recognises that.

Town hall-style meetings with students in Lahore and round-table debates with senior news broadcasters in Islamabad may be seen as steps in the right direction.

'Go America Go'

But it is likely to take much more to turn around Pakistani mistrust of American intentions.

"Americans want this country to face anarchy," says Munawar Hassan, the head of Pakistan's largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami.

He has just finished giving another press conference in his "Go America Go" tour.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Pakistan
Hillary Clinton combined parades with round-table debates

"They will then say that the atomic weapons of Pakistan are unsafe and that the United Nations should come in," he continues.

"They want to deprive Pakistan of its nuclear programme."

Mr Hassan goes on to talk of his anger at American air strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas and at the planned expansion of the US embassy in Islamabad.

But these days, in Pakistan, it is not just from the mouths of Islamist politicians like Mr Hassan that you hear feelings like that expressed.

Not far away, Hamid Mir is in his office in the Geo TV building, preparing to go on air.

His show, Capital Talk, is one of the most influential news talk shows in the country.

'Mirror of society'

Mr Mir has accused the US of surreptitiously increasing the number of marines in Pakistan and allowing private security agencies like Blackwater to operate here.

He says he has no problem with accusations that Capital Talk is anti-American.

"The whole of Pakistan is anti-American," he says.

"The talk shows are just a mirror of Pakistani society. It would be very easy for me to be the darling of Washington, but then I will become the villain for my viewers and the common people in Pakistan."

Najam Rafique
We have political instability, economic instability and even social instability. We have food scarcity and energy shortages. Pakistanis can't blame America for all of that
Najam Rafique,
Institute of Strategic Studies

Animosity towards the US seems to have increased since a new bill - widely known as the Kerry-Lugar bill - was passed by Congress.

It promises a massive injection of aid to Pakistan, but with conditions attached which many Pakistanis feel give the US too much control over their country's affairs.

"They say they are our friends," says Mr Mir. "But through the Kerry-Lugar bill they are trying to convert all of Pakistan into their slave. This is the feeling in Pakistan."

On her current trip, Mrs Clinton has gone out of her way to assure Pakistanis that the White House has no interest in micro-managing their country.

She has said America simply wants to strengthen ties and help Pakistan deal with its considerable militant threat.

That threat has been horrifically apparent in recent weeks, with a massive series of deadly attacks right across the country. But even many of those affected have little faith in the US.

Take the Islamic University on the outskirts of Islamabad. Just a week ago, two suicide bombers walked into the campus and blew themselves up. One was at the entrance of the women's canteen.

Now female students line up there to light candles, lay flowers and place written messages on the wall for their friends and colleagues who died.

It was the Taliban who claimed they had carried out the attack, but it is not towards them that anger is being directed.

"There's a lot of involvement from America. We feel America is responsible for the blast," says the first student we speak to. Her friends join in.

Students at the site of a bombing
Among the grief, there is anger and blame directed at the US

"These are the people spreading terror in Pakistan," says one.

"The Taliban are not spreading terror, it is these people, Hillary Clinton and before her Bush. We don't need America, things were better before they came here."

Certainly a lot of the collective mistrust of the US stems from a historic feeling that America uses Pakistan when it wants, and then abandons it.

Najam Rafique, head of the Americas department at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, says it is only natural for America to want to have greater influence in Pakistan.

"This is not just about the War on Terror," he says.

"Pakistan has borders with Iran, whose nuclear programme America wants to keep an eye on. It has direct links to China, with whom America is in open competition, and access to Central Asia, where vast resources are waiting to be tapped.

"Of course the Americans have their own national interests in mind. If they are moving in terms of securing those interests, why would you blame them?"

He says that while Pakistanis may have some reasons to doubt US sincerity, it is time for them to stop blaming America for all the country's ills.

"We have political instability, economic instability and even social instability. We have food scarcity and energy shortages.

"Pakistanis can't blame America for all of that, because a lot of those things are of our own making."



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