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War on Terror, Foreign Policy Affect Pakistani Views of U.S.

September 7, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Now, the last of Margaret Warner’s reports from Pakistan. She looks at Pakistani attitudes toward the United States. For the record, it was completed before that Osama bin Laden tape was released.

MARGARET WARNER: Every day, Pakistanis form long lines at this office in downtown Islamabad. They’re waiting to drop off documents to be forwarded to the U.S. consulate nearby. The quest for visas to visit the United States and green cards to live there is undiminished in Pakistan, despite tensions in the relationship between Washington and Islamabad.

American fast food joints are ubiquitous here. The Golden Arches, Colonel Sanders, stuffed crust pizzas, they’re all popular with Pakistani diners. Popular, too, we were told, are the latest American political tomes to hit the bookstores; works by former CIA Director George Tenet, Senator Hillary Clinton, and about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are all on prominent display.

As we traveled the country, we found that people are happy to talk about the United States, and many are eager to correct what they believe are American misperceptions about Pakistan and Pakistanis.

On Food Street in Lahore, for example, one diner wanted NewsHour viewers to better understand his country. Asghar Hussein works for a U.S. bank in the city.

ASGHAR HUSSEIN, Bank Sales Manager: Please, all Americans who think that Pakistanis are terrorists, this is not the right thing. Some are saying ΓǪ and some are saying it’s a terrorist country in the United States, but let me tell you one thing, that the majority of people here are liberal. They want Pakistan to grow with the help of the United States and other countries.

MARGARET WARNER: Pakistanis from all walks of life have told us they resent U.S. criticism of their country, especially the assertion that Pakistan isn’t doing enough in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism. In a Karachi cigar bar where jazz is piped in live from Chicago, we spoke with businessman Hamid Ali Khan.

HAMID ALI KHAN, Owner, Club Havana: I think it really offends us, because we’ve made — our armed forces have made terrific sacrifices in those areas, really, really terrific sacrifices. And to hear that, you know, we’re really not doing all that much in the hunt for al-Qaida and so on and so forth, it really is very, very disappointing.

MARGARET WARNER: At the headquarters of GEO, Pakistan’s most successful private television network, we heard a similar message from company president Imran Aslam.

IMRAN ASLAM, President, GEO Television: It’s that kind of relationship, you know, that we are bound in a marriage maybe of convenience, but it’s a constant goading to go out there, do more, you know, go and kill your own people because they might be harboring terrorists. And now the Pakistan army has gone in there at the behest of American goading. And I think it hasn’t gone down too well, and we’ve suffered losses.

MARGARET WARNER: And we’ve heard the same from senior figures in the Pakistani government, including, just before we left the states, the governor of Balochistan, the southwestern province on the Afghan border that is in the eye of the war on terror storm.

OWAIS AHMED GHANI, Governor of Balochistan: There is, you know, a certain thinking, line of thinking in the West that is to keep Pakistan under pressure so that it can deliver more. What the world doesn’t realize, that it is Pakistan’s desperate need for Afghanistan to stabilize, terrorism to be eliminated from that region. There’s been a price to pay. We have lost soldiers; we have lost men. There’s an economic price to pay; yet nobody appreciates it.

CHAUDHRY NISAR ALI KHAN, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz: The people of Pakistan are not the enemies of the United States of America.

Criticism of U.S. support

MARGARET WARNER: Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, a prominent opposition parliamentarian who was once close to President Musharraf, has another beef with the United States. He says America's vocal support for the Pakistani military leader, as Musharraf's popularity has waned, is widely resented by Pakistanis who yearn for a more democratic future.

CHAUDHRY NISAR ALI KHAN: The United States administration have gone overboard in its support for the military dictator. The United States of America must understand between the interests of Pakistan and the interests of one man.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There are some fiercely anti-American forces in Pakistan seeking to exploit that sentiment. At the headquarters of Jamaat-e-Islami, one of Pakistan's Islamic political parties, we spotted American cartoons, including Tarzan, in the gift shop. But they were on sale right alongside DVDs extolling violent jihad against U.S. interests.

The organization's secretary general expressed the anti-American message that his party is using to advance its political aspirations.

SYED MUNAWAR HASAN, Secretary General, Jamaat-e-Islami: Since Americans are fond of patronizing despots and military dictators -- they talk of democracy, no doubt about that. They talk of constitution and rule of law and institutions, but whenever it comes to practice, they always support the kings, and monarchs, and despots, and dictators.

MARGARET WARNER: U.S. support for Musharraf is lampooned in a wildly popular animated television show here called "Pillow Talk."

CARICATURE OF PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: Hello, Bush?

CARICATURE OF GEORGE BUSH: The number you have dialed is not responding at the moment. Please try later.

MARGARET WARNER: It has served to underscore the notion that the Pakistani leader is in bed with President Bush. So, to Pakistani eyes, does the constant flow of senior U.S. officials visiting Islamabad. Three weeks ago, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher was here for talks with the Pakistan leadership. On Monday, Deputy Secretary John Negroponte is due to arrive.

The U.S. says that for months it's actually been trying to encourage President Musharraf to share power with moderate civilian-led parties, but that isn't the widely shared perception here. And at a time when the State Department tells Americans to stay away from Pakistan because of the threat of terrorism, some Pakistanis say that is only serving to increase the gulf and misunderstanding between the two societies.

IMRAN ASLAM: You guys have become novelties. We don't see Americans any more; all we see is Bush. And so the Americans who we used to interact with, whether it was the U.S. libraries or, you know, the American schools over here, or the diplomats, or just people visiting all the time, or just sailors coming in to Karachi, which is a great port -- used to be -- you don't see that any more.

MARGARET WARNER: Imran Aslam wasn't alone in telling us that he thinks the two countries need more people-to-people contacts to improve Pakistanis' view of the United States and Americans' view of Pakistan.

Relating to the United States

JIM LEHRER: Before Margaret left Pakistan last night, she talked with Jeffrey Brown.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Margaret, it sounds from that report as though everyone you talked to really has the U.S. very much on their minds and was very ready to talk about it.

MARGARET WARNER: That's very true, Jeff. In fact, the young man -- or he's not so young -- but the man we saw on Food Street in Lahore there, even before I asked him about the United States, wanted to talk about, "Tell your viewers, you know, we're not all terrorists."

There is definitely a sense here that they are not perceived accurately by Americans. And what you have in terms of the perceptions of the United States is, as I pointed out in that little piece, is actually a sense of that they don't know us very well.

For example, when you move out of the sort of business and professional elites and the people who travel, who are all very, very gracious and always say, you know, "Our complaints about the United States aren't directed at Americans, but only the policies of your government," but when you get away from people like that and you're out in the streets, in a pharmacy, in a bakery, whether it's in a village or in Karachi or Islamabad, there's just incredible curiosity.

I mean, they just don't see Americans or really Westerners much any more here, except NGO people. And so literally, from kids to young adults, they just stare and smile and stare.

The only place I'd say I ran into any hostility is from really committed Islamists. I mean, the secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami spoke to me -- he was in that piece, too -- spoke to me as if I was a personal representative of the Bush administration. But other than that, I would say that the reception we've received has been quite warm.

"Free and fair elections"

JEFFREY BROWN: So from what you've seen there on the ground, what is the U.S. doing at this point, if anything, to counter either the lack of awareness or the hostile attitudes that you've encountered?

MARGARET WARNER: Jeff, there's a very concerted American campaign at this point to try to dispel the notion that the U.S. is propping up Musharraf or trying to engineer a deal with Benazir Bhutto. Yesterday, the new U.S. ambassador, Anne Patterson, gave her first major speech, and what she emphasized over and over again was, you know, the United States doesn't care who wins the coming elections, presidential, parliamentary, whatever. We just want free and fair elections. We want democracy to really flourish here in Pakistan.

And then the other thing she kept trying to move emphasize was that the U.S. gives a lot of aid and support to Pakistan that's not military. She talked about money that the U.S. is giving in the tribal areas, in particular to try to improve the infrastructure there.

Nonetheless, I went to see her this afternoon, and we talked about why there is this perception. And she said -- and she has served in Colombia, she served in Saudi Arabia, for example, two countries where the United States has, in fact, a powerful influence and presence. She said, though she'd never been in a country that there was such a strong sentiment that the U.S. exercises some sort of hidden hand, that the U.S. was behind everything.

And I was reminded that several Pakistanis told me, while I was here this week, you know, would say, "You know, we have an old saying here, that Pakistan answers to or responds to the three A's: the army, Allah and America." So it's a very strong feeling here, underlying feeling here, and the U.S. is just doing whatever it can to try to dispel it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Margaret Warner in Pakistan, great reports all week. Thanks for that, and we'll see you back here next week.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Jeff.