Day of strike and protests fails to whip up fervour : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Day of strike and protests fails to whip up fervour By Patrick Bishop in Quetta (Filed: 16/10/2001)

THE preacher ranted, the crowd waved bin Laden placards and chanted, "Death to America". But when the rally was over the 4,000 or so advocates of jihad who had gathered in the dust of the Quetta cricket ground to protest at American actions in Afghanistan meekly trooped off home to tea.

It was the same story all over the country. A national day of strikes and protests called by Pakistan's main religious parties to coincide with the visit of Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, fizzled out in half-hearted observance and poor attendances.

For the moment, at least, it seems that the government of General Pervaiz Musharraf has ridden out the squalls of Islamic anger generated by the war and is firmly in control of the country's security.

In Islamabad many shops and some schools closed and there were several arrests. There was a flurry of stone-throwing in Hyderabad.

In Jacobabad, where a man was shot dead on Sunday in protests against America being allowed to use the local air base for search and rescue missions, police arrested scores of Taliban supporters to prevent a repetition.

It was all very much less than the Islamic parties had been hoping for. Since the crisis began they have been desperate to capitalise on the uncertainty and unease felt by many Pakistanis at events next door.

But those sentiments have so far failed to produce demonstrations of the sort that toppled the Shah of Iran.

The Islamists have not even managed to galvanise all their core supporters. Religious parties have never managed to win more than five per cent in any election in Pakistan.

Nothing like that proportion of the country's voters have been on the streets since the bombing began.

They can, none the less, put on a good show. Those sitting in the dust beneath the cricket scoreboard at Quetta's Youth Stadium were mostly poor and uneducated.

As the preacher wound up the tension with well-worn phrases glorifying Afghanistan and damning America, the frustration rolled off them in hot waves.

It was all good camera fodder and as usual the placards had been helpfully, if sometimes inaccurately, lettered in English. So this was a media event. But the stewards were refusing to let anyone speak to reporters.

Naymitullah, 25, was expressing his willingness to fight with Osama bin Laden to drive the Americans from the holy land of Saudi Arabia when he was interrupted by a man waving a stave.

Menace features large at Islamist gatherings. Sinister stewards, heads wrapped in Palestinian keffiyehs, prowled the ground, brandishing sticks at boys who preferred chatting to listening to the message from the podium.

Somehow, the messages of hatred and death seemed unconvincing. Most Pakistani Taliban supporters smiled too much to be truly worrying. Certainly the police ringing the stadium seemed unconcerned.

The rest of Quetta was taking little notice of the rally. The strike shut down three quarters of the town but many people were still quietly going about their work.

Fazal Mohammed Achackzi is the sort of man the Islamists are aiming their message at. He is 30, works as a washer-up in a restaurant, and is scrimping to save money.

He is a devout Muslim, a gentle creed, not the religious fanaticism of bin Laden. He said: "I am completely against terrorism and I think most people are like me.

"We are peaceful people and we want the same as everyone else - security, food, education and water. It hasn't rained here for five years.

"When I have children I want a good future for them, the chance of equality with everyone else and to live in a world free of fear."

Back at the stadium, the rhetoric of martyrdom bubbled. A friend asked me: "How many people here would actually join bin Laden if there were coaches waiting to take them off now?"

I said: "About 10."

He said: "What if the coaches were going to the American consulate to pick up unlimited visas?"

"About 3,990." I said.

"Yes," said my friend. "But now the thought of those 10 is a reason to be frightened."

-- Martin Thompson (, October 16, 2001


Martin --

I always did wonder, in every case I saw (showing Arab made video!!), why the vast majority of the signs were in English.

Whose passions and fears were they really "talking" to??


-- Jackson Brown (, October 16, 2001.

Good point. You will also notice that those demonstrations seen on TV are never as large as they seem. A few thousand screaming protesters look like a lot more on a TV screen.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 16, 2001.

I always look at the demonstators in the back of the crowd or the bystanders expressions. Often many appear bored or confused.

-- Judy/W (, October 16, 2001.

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