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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
Tension and courtesy in Islamabad
Pakistani protestor on the streets
Militants carry an effigy of George Bush
By the BBC's Hugh Sykes in Islamabad

Despite the horrors of New York and Washington, Pakistan for the past week and more has been a richly rewarding, safe place to be.

I have never known such consistently courteous, generous people.


Killing one innocent person is killing the whole of humanity

Quote from the Quoran
Here I am, a white foreigner - nobody could tell from a distance that I am not American - and I joined a crowd of worshippers pouring out of a mosque after evening prayers to block the street for the demonstration.

They put up banners saying: "Any attack on the Taleban will be regarded as an attack on the entire Muslim world" - presumably a neat reference to the NATO principle, that an attack on one is an attack on all.

Another banner urged America: "Think - why are you so hated around the world?"

Yet, I was able to walk among the clerics and the faithful, and ask them questions and receive handshakes and smiles and heartfelt comments.

Heartfelt comments

Late one evening, I walked in no particular direction along the dark streets.
General Pervez Musharraf
General Musharraf has a hard task ahead of him
Down one side street there was a bright pool of light, and I went to have a look. It was a house and a tree in the front garden festooned with white light bulbs, an eve of wedding party.

Children were playing shuttlecock in the road. They stopped and said a friendly hello.

A man came out and walked with me and gave me handshake and a smile and heartfelt comments.

Another evening, I sat on a bench under the trees of a small square drinking 7-UP through a straw. Two men pulled up chairs and chatted and shook my hand, and smiled and made heartfelt comments.


They have no eye to see the deaths that they have caused in Iran and Iraq, but now two towers collapse and they are shouting

Policeman in Islamabad
Everyone I have spoken to is shocked by the dreadful events in America and pained at the loss of life. At the demonstration the maulana, a learned holy man, quoted from the Koran: "Killing one innocent person is killing the whole of humanity".

But, and the "buts" are shocking and unpalatable, those heartfelt comments I heard tell a different story.

Hostile words

The man by the house with the wedding lights, a civil servant, said: "America has been rightly punished for supporting the brutality of Israel".

The man under the trees in the square, a police detective specialising in murder and rape, said: "Osama Bin Laden is an Islamic hero, the Americans are bastards. They have no eye to see the deaths that they have caused in Iran and Iraq, but now two towers collapse and they are shouting."

Protestors burn an American flag
Some feel the US cannot comprehend grief that's not its own
These are not extreme, wild, unrepresentative examples - the hostility spans the classes. A banker said to me: "The attack on New York was repaying America in the same coin."

He thinks the Americans are astonishingly and dangerously solipsistic -apparently unable to comprehend grief unless it is their own.

"Remember the Iran airbus?" he asked me - deliberately shot down over the gulf by the USS Vincennes despite the ship's radar showing conclusively that it was not a fighter plane on a hostile course.

"Did the Americans weep for those 200 dead?" he asked. "Tears of the same colour whoever is weeping? Grief makes the same pain."

Afraid of attacks

One leading American, Mario Cuomo, did say the day after the twin tower assault that "we have to change".

But everybody I have met here in Pakistan is afraid that the opposite will happen - that the United States, its judgement blurred by its own grief, will turn in on itself and unleash some kind of blanket untargeted revenge, to satisfy a national blood lust.

In Peshawar, close to the Afghan border, I was showered with smiles and handshakes and heartfelt comments.


It is bad, but our lives bad too. Please for us work, and food - no revenge

Hafez Amin
"If there is collective retribution against Afghanistan," a crowd of Afghans politely assured me, "we will fight back with the very weapons the Americans gave us for driving out the Russians."

President Mubarak of Egypt warned this week that "a strike that kills innocent people will create a new generation of terrorists."

Perhaps Washington should take a lesson in Irish history - the resolve of the supporters of the 1916 uprising were strengthened when the British executed the rebels turning them into martyrs.

There is anxiety here in Pakistan. People constantly come up to me to ask "Is there news?"

But at Mister Books, a huge bookshop in Islamabad, with newspaper racks full of Time magazine, Newsweek and The Economist, one of the assistants Hafez Amin said to me in halting English: "It is bad, but our lives bad too. Please for us work, and food - no revenge."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Robin Denselow
discovers how the Pakistani people are reacting to the stand-off
See also:

20 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan militants step up protests
19 Sep 01 | Media reports
Text: Musharraf rallies Pakistani nation
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Karachi protest against US
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tough choice
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul checkpoints stem refugee exodus
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Embassies act on Pakistan unrest
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