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Amanpour: Pakistanis' loyalties divided

Christiane Amanpour reports from Islamabad, Pakistan.
Christiane Amanpour reports from Islamabad, Pakistan.  

(CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Pakistan on Monday amid heated anti-American protests against the continuing U.S.-led bombing campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

While most Pakistani citizens back President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's decision to join a global anti-terrorism campaign sponsored by the United States, they also support the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan, who are accused of harboring Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in Islamabad, Pakistan, where she has the following report on the latest developments.

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CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR: A poll has been released here ... which suggests that there is growing support for the Pakistani President's handling of this crisis, but also suggests that 83 percent of Pakistanis who were asked supported the Taliban against the United States. And something like 82 percent term Osama bin Laden a holy warrior and not a terrorist. Only 12 percent of those asked believe that bin Laden was responsible for those attacks on September 11. So that's an indication of support here for what's going on.

There was a national strike called here today; it was met with a very lukewarm reception. Some shops were closed, some were open, and so far there's been no disturbances on the street. But (U.S.) Secretary of State Colin Powell is coming. Part of what he will discuss here is the political situation for a post-military Afghanistan, if you like, and today some delegation from the former Afghan King Zahir Shah came to Islamabad to talk to the Pakistani Foreign Minister, and maybe even will talk with Secretary Powell later today. The former King (Zahir Shah) who is in exile in Rome (Italy) is of course the focus of speculation about who might lead any interim national reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Of course at the same time, this was one of the heaviest days of air strikes on Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad, according to eyewitnesses that we've been speaking to. In Kabul there were plumes of smoke from bombing attacks earlier today. But you saw residents sort of going about their daily lives as normally as they possibly can with all this bombing and smoke coming up, and we also know that there have been some (bomb misses) as reported by the Pentagon, and some civilian casualties. And that of course does tend to inflame emotions, not just in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan and around the Islamic world.

CNN: Those numbers you share from the polls seem highly contradictory. Explain how you can have growing support for Gen. Pervez Musharraf's handling of the crisis at a time when you also have 83 percent of the population also supporting the Taliban.

AMANPOUR: Well that is exactly the kind of contradiction you have happening in this part of the world. On the one hand it is clear from our interviews and all the people we've talked to that the people of Pakistan support the President in the stance that he has made. That was clear when he made his speech to the nation when 77 percent of Pakistanis said they agreed with the decision he had taken. But of course you know that there are these militant groups here, sympathizers, who have not supported him. So that's for that side of this. On the other hand, there are still, despite the support for their leader, many many Pakistanis who feel that their first allegiance is to fellow Muslims -- the Taliban are Muslims -- and their first allegiance is to Muslims in Afghanistan. They simply don't like the idea of the United States carrying out a bombing campaign. So I think that explains the contradiction here.


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