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Saturday, 13 October, 2001, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
War View: Are the air strikes wise?
Pakistani writer Sabiha Sumar says she fears the US and UK's air strikes might be pushing her country to the brink of civil war.

Schools are closed and the traffic is thin on the otherwise busy city roads.

McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets are shut. There is an ominous calm in Karachi. Roads leading to the US and the British consulates are closed - large containers are parked across the roads.

The thirst for revenge is tinged with reason

I talked to several people from different walks of life about their opinion on the US-led attacks in Afghanistan.

Although only a minority of people in Karachi are outright supporters of Osama Bin Laden, a large majority are morally outraged by the attacks on the Afghan people, who have nothing to do with al-Qaeda.

City mosques are witnessing record attendance of the faithful.

Demands for evidence

In essence, the message I heard was the same everywhere. The insult to Islam and Muslims must be avenged.

The thirst for revenge is tinged with reason. Rafiq, a senior civil servant and political activist argues that America failed to show the Muslim people the evidence it claims to have against Osama. "Where is the evidence?" He spreads his hands in disgust.

Intellectuals are aghast at the "monumental stupidity" of the United States for playing into the hands of religious parties.

"Unfortunately, the war is being seen as a crusade against Islam and the Taliban are exploiting it to the hilt", says Nausheen, a successful lawyer with a multinational company.

All the work we did to stem the Islamisation of Pakistani society over many years was swept overboard literally overnight


"The fundos have been immensely strengthened by the air strikes," says Mahmood who works for a Non-Government Organisation (NGO). "The narrow space for intellectual work we have will now shrink into virtually nothing."

"All the work we did", bemoans Fahmida, a woman activist, "to stem the Islamisation of Pakistani society over many years was swept overboard literally overnight."

Mufti Nizamuddin is a member of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islami (JUI). I asked him for his opinion about the air strikes.

"It is in their hands to start the war but it is not in their hands to end it."

Growing backlash

The JUI has issued a fatwa declaring that "this war must be fought in every Muslim home, everywhere". The Mufti makes especial reference to Muslims in Britain.

Afghanistan will turn into an American graveyard

"We will take the war to every Muslim home in Britain and every Muslim home in America. [President] Bush wants a crusade. We'll give him Jihad."

"My husband loves Osama", said Afrosa, looking at her two children playing in the garden. "The Americans deserved what they got and deserve to get more."


Her husband, Khalid, is home early, having closed his printing shop because business is "very slow" today.

"We are holding a protest demonstration in the evening", he declares. "Afghanistan will turn into an American graveyard."

The emotional response is strikingly different to that when Iraq was bombed about a decade ago. Then, Iraq was seen largely as the guilty party for invading Kuwait.

This time, the reactions are the opposite. In the eyes of the vast majority in Karachi, Afghanistan committed no crime; and Osama bin Laden is innocent until proven guilty.

The feeling of being wronged is intense. There is almost universal belief that Pakistan was misled into believing that there would be no military action, that the country was used cynically by the US and Britain.

Predictably the growing backlash is increasingly threatening the Musharraf presidency.

I could not avoid the conclusion that some fear that the US and Britain by their unwise and ultimately counterproductive military attack on Afghanistan may have brought Pakistan to the brink of civil war.

This is one of a series of differing opinions on the War on Terror which we shall be publishing in the coming days. You can send your view about this or other articles by using the form below.

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