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In Pak media, US is target for acrimony

In Pak media, US is target for acrimony
Islamabad:  The United States might still be weighing its options about how to deal with Pakistan, but many politicians, retired army generals and popular television talk show hosts here have already made up their minds that America is on the warpath with their country.

Such is the media frenzy and warmongering that popular talk show hosts have even begun discussing possible scenarios of how Pakistan should react if the United States attacks the country. One television news channel has even aired a war anthem.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has called on a conference of opposition political parties and government's allies for Thursday to discuss the crisis. The government is also enlisting allies.

Islamabad, the capital, has seen a flurry of diplomatic activity with the visits of Chinese and Saudi officials. The American ambassador, Cameron Munter, has also met with President Asif Ali  Zardari and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir.

After meeting with Vice Premier Meng Jianzhu of China on Tuesday, Mr. Gilani said that "China categorically supports Pakistan's efforts to uphold its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity," an oblique reference aimed at the United States.

Earlier in an interview with Reuters, Mr. Gilani warned against any cross-border raids by American forces in Afghanistan. "We are a sovereign country," Mr. Gilani was quoted as saying. "How can they come and raid in our country?"

Pakistan's powerful army and intelligence chiefs, meanwhile, have conveyed their message through their posturing. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief, canceled his Monday visit to Britain, stoking a sense of crisis.

On Sunday, General Kayani led a meeting with his top military commanders. No press statement was issued, but leaks to local media outlets warned of a "stern response" to any attack on Pakistan by American forces from Afghanistan.

A military official, privy to the meeting, said that the military commanders agreed to make efforts to defuse the situation and de-escalate the tensions with the United States. However, "certain decisions were taken, primarily of some defensive nature, in the event of a possible U.S. attack," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the country's spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, also flew Monday to meet with Saudi officials. Saudi Arabia is a close ally of Pakistan.

Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired lieutenant general and former head of the ISI, said Tuesday that the United States is "pressurizing Pakistan to hide its own failures in Afghanistan," a widely held view here. Mr. Qazi, now a senator, was quoted as saying that "U.S. officials often lie for their own interests" and as criticizing the American media for supporting what he called government propaganda against Pakistan.

The sharp display of anti-American sentiment is reflective of the deep divisions, mistrust and suspicions that exist between the countries.

The rambunctious electronic and print media have been rife with discussions about the possible rupture between the two troubled allies. Several retired army officials have taken on a very hard line, urging the government to break ties with the United States.

Such displays have been evident in the past few days, since Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a statement describing the Haqqani network, a militant group based in Pakistan's tribal areas, as a veritable arm of the ISI. He also charged that the ISI had supported an attack this month by Haqqani militants on the American Embassy in Afghanistan.

"Why cannot we snap diplomatic relations?" asked Shuja Khanzada, a retired colonel, during a live talk show on Tuesday on Dunya TV, a private television news network.

On Monday, Hamid Mir, the host of "Capital Talk," a talk show on the popular news network Geo, started the show asking, "Is United States going to attack on the ground in Pakistan?"

Mr. Mir, who has a penchant for sensationalism, asked Asma Jahangir, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, what would happen if, in response to an American attack, Pakistan blocked the NATO supply lines that pass through the country for the Afghan war.

Ms. Jahangir rebuked the host. "America hasn't launched any attack yet, and you are talking this way," Ms. Jahangir said. Instead, she urged Pakistanis to reflect on where they have gone wrong.

Earlier in the show, another participant, Abdul Qayum, a retired lieutenant general, said that an American attack was a possibility.

When another participant, Farukh Saleem, a columnist and widely quoted analyst, criticized the local media by saying that it had "put more fuel on the fire," General Qayum interjected and said Admiral Mullen's statement was an insult to the whole nation.

"You cannot trust them," General Qayum said of the Americans. "There is a history of betrayal."

In another talk show, "Khari Baat" on Dunya TV, Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, a former ISI chief, said that American threats were actually a blessing in disguise, as they had united the whole nation.

General Gul said the United State wants to give archrival India a "proxy role" in Afghanistan and American actions now risked the "dangers of a third world war."

In an interview, Enver Baig, a former senator, said that the threatening American statements "resulted in gluing all political parties together."

He added, "U.S. elections are approaching closer and Americans want a safe and respectable exit from Afghanistan and are scapegoating Pakistan," echoing a widespread perception in Pakistan.

"The majority of the public sentiment is anti-American despite the fact that the U.S. is the biggest donor to Pakistan," Mr. Baig said. "The U.S. has not been able to convert this into good will. American P.R. in Pakistan is very poor." 
Story First Published: September 28, 2011 14:17 IST

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