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Chinoy: Pakistan demonstrations quelled


PESHAWAR, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan, Afghanistan's neighbor and the only country with diplomatic relations with the Taliban, has braced itself for internal conflict in reaction to its government’s support of U.S.-led air strikes on Afghanistan.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, cracked down on Taliban supporters in his government. Still many Pakistanis opposed to the military action have taken to the streets in protest. But Tuesday’s demonstrations turned into a subdued standoff with authorities.

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Meanwhile, United Nations officials also have readied for refugees fleeing areas that might be targeted by the military strikes.

CNN's Mike Chinoy is in Peshawar and spoke Tuesday about the most recent developments.

CHINOY: What is interesting about these demonstrations is as much what is not happening as what is happening. The Islamic fundamentalists here came out in fairly small numbers. Their slogans were angry -- the usual criticisms of the United States, voicing support for Osama bin Laden, denouncing Pakistan’s government -- but the government itself put on a very noticeable show of force with police and soldiers, heavily armed, ringing the area.

And despite the sound and the fury, in the end, that demonstration dissipated, and another one called for later in the day did not materialize as well. This is an indication that although many people in Pakistan are upset at what has happened with the U.S.-led airstrikes, and some are clearly prepared to go to the streets, we do not see evidence that this so far is becoming a mass movement that could really endanger the government.

The government and President Musharraf took a major step on Sunday to ensure that doesn’t become the case. The president removed the head of Pakistani military intelligence and other generals considered to be close to the Taliban in order to consolidate his own power.

Some other fallout from the airstrikes though -- the international aid effort in this part of the country has ground almost to a complete halt. Security concerns have confined most aid workers to their home. Some of them aren’t even going to their offices.

The U.N. says its teams have been unable to reach sites along the border, that they’ve been trying to prepare to house the new refugees who may be coming across the border. Those sites are in very rugged and barren terrain in areas not normally accessible to foreigners. [And] the U.N. is having trouble with the Pakistani authorities and with angry locals. And so there are lots of supplies here in Peshawar, very little of that making its way to the border where the U.N. is fearful you could have a huge influx of refugees if the fighting inside Afghanistan continues.

CNN: Our military experts are telling us they believe these airstrikes will continue for another day at least, perhaps as many as two days. If that’s the case, what does that mean to the people who made it to the border and are without food?

CHINOY: Well, they’re in trouble. The U.N. officials we spoke to say they really aren’t sure because communications are so bad, whether or not people are coming across in big numbers now or whether or not they’re staying put on the Afghan side, or whether they feel the strikes have been targeted enough that it will be safe for them to go back home.

In any event, conditions inside Afghanistan are, if anything, much, much worse than conditions here. So, regardless if they come across or stay inside, they’re still in terrible trouble and the escalation in the conflict in the past few days means the aid operations, which were virtually at a standstill inside Afghanistan, have almost come to a standstill on this side as well.

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