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Nic Robertson: The problem of Pakistani protests

CNN's Nic Robertson
CNN's Nic Robertson  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- As U.S.-led airstrikes continue to pound Afghan cities, neighboring Pakistan must deal with ongoing dissent.

Another anti-U.S. demonstration was held Tuesday in Jacobabad, and there are conflicting reports on exactly who is taking part in these protests.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in the capital, Islamabad, and he filed the following report:

ROBERTSON: The latest from inside Afghanistan are those ongoing military campaigns. We are told that jets flew over the eastern city of Jalalabad on Tuesday. They didn't bomb the city. But farther south in Kandahar, jets did fly over early in the morning, and bombs were dropped on the city, we are told.

They hit what we are told were some fuel trucks, some oil tankers. Our staff there in Kandahar say that fuel prices are beginning to go up inside Afghanistan now. They've gone up some 30 percent. And they are told by Taliban officials there that the Taliban now believe that the United States and the allied air campaign is beginning to target their fuel resources inside the country. The Taliban said they believe that the allied forces are trying to degrade their ability to move around the country.

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But in Pakistan, there were demonstrations planned Tuesday in Jacobabad, where the United States is using a military airfield. About 600 U.S. service personnel are there at the air base. But the demonstrations that happened Tuesday by the Jamaat-e-Islami Party, the J.I. Party, were very small. The police say there were only 70 people demonstrating, and they arrested all of them.

Now, the J.I. Party say there were some 250 demonstrators, and the police only arrested 25 of them. But the bottom line there is that the demonstrators did not get to the air base where the United States service personnel are.

However, this is part of an ongoing clampdown by the Pakistani government on this particular party. The Pakistani government is very angry at the leader of the J.I. Party. They say he made very inflammatory statements over the weekend, inciting Pakistani troops to rise against the government. The Pakistani government says it won't stand for that. The president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, says he believes that he still has a majority support here. Here's what he said:

MUSHARRAF: I know that the vast majority of people have support for me. But my problem arises when the same feelings, fraternal feelings do not exist with the United States as they existed in the '80s when we were fighting a war in Afghanistan together. That feeling is not there, and that is causing a bit of confusion in the Pakistani mind.

ROBERTSON: The concerns here among the Pakistani population is that this just isn't in the radical elements only. This is in the general population. The pictures they are seeing from Afghanistan are pictures of innocent civilians being hurt. The articles being written in the newspapers here are indicating that the targeting is not just after the al Qaeda organization but after the Taliban regime, and that is giving some of the residents of Pakistan real cause for concern.

CNN: What about the concern for the U.S. support for the Northern Alliance?

ROBERTSON: The Pakistani government has been very clear on that up to now. Musharraf has said that he wants to see a broad-based coalition put in place inside Afghanistan. By this he means that he wants to see a Pashtun element. This is the ethnic grouping that the Taliban come from, of course. This is the ethnic grouping that the former exiled king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, comes from.

The Pakistan intelligence organization here is still meeting with the Taliban ambassador. Pakistan is very keen to see it help shape the political future of Afghanistan. Pakistan is willing, it says, to see the Northern Alliance involved in a future administration inside Afghanistan, but it wants to have some element of input on the shape of that new political dispensation that could emerge.


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