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Reporter: ‘Anti-U.S. Sentiment’ Present in Pakistan

April 5, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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A spate of bombings by the Taliban rocked northwest Pakistan, including a deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Peshawar. Gwen Ifill talks to a reporter about the outbreak of violence and views of American involvement in the region.

GWEN IFILL: For more, we go to Saima Mohsin, a senior anchor for Dawn TV, a 24-hour English-language news channel in Pakistan. I spoke to her a short time ago from Karachi.

Saima, it seems like these attacks had been declining, but now today’s again. How unsettling was this attack, especially the one on the U.S. consulate?

SAIMA MOHSIN, Dawn News: Well, this attack today, Gwen, came as a huge shock to everyone in Peshawar and right across the country. As you say, there has been a lull in the — in these attacks most recently, probably, most likely, because we have seen a lot of pressure on militants because of several security operations in the tribal areas, and, of course, successive drone attacks pounding the tribal areas in FATA in Pakistan.

But these — this attack was well-coordinated, and it must have been well-planned. That’s what analysts are telling me here today, that this was probably months in the making.

GWEN IFILL: How much anti-American sentiment has been playing into these kinds of attacks?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, the Taliban today came out with a statement saying that this was a direct targeting of the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar. They say that there are many more planned attacks to come specifically against Americans in Pakistan.

We have, over the past year or two, seen a buildup of what is being termed as anti-American sentiment. Of course, just a few months ago, we saw that dreadful attack on a convoy attending a school inauguration, where we saw two U.S. security personnel being killed in that attack. They — they were not there on duty. They were there because they had been invited because they had been helping with that school project.

So, we have seen attacks against U.S. personnel. There is a real anti-U.S. sentiment here. We saw a lot of controversy around the Kerry-Lugar bill. We have seen much controversy, specifically, about Blackwater. We even heard from Erik Prince himself in an interview saying he was set to work on a project here in Pakistan.

That is causing much angst here. And, particularly, if you pick up any national newspaper, there is often discussions or — or — or articles pointing out how many Americans are living in Pakistan, what they’re doing, why are they here, and being questioned for their presence.

GWEN IFILL: Whether it’s the attack today involving the U.S. consulate or the one attacking the political party farther from Peshawar, how much of this is — is caused by the Taliban? You mentioned the Taliban. How much is their influence growing?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well — well, it might seem, in terms of visibility, that their influence is growing. We’re seeing them spreading out into urban areas as they’re flushed out of the tribal areas, Gwen. But that doesn’t mean that the Taliban is growing in strength.

It means that, when they are hitting out, they’re hitting out hard. You mentioned that attack in Lower Dir today, absolutely devastating. These people were out. It was an organized celebration by the local political party, the ANP. And that is when the Taliban struck.

And — and when these kinds of gatherings are targeted, it’s obvious that it gains a lot of publicity. It also instills a lot of fear, so people simply don’t want to come out again.

GWEN IFILL: How much do political tensions drive this sort of activity? We saw today one of the things that was almost overshadowed by these attacks was this big speech that President Zardari was scheduled to give before parliament.

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, the — the big question everyone was asking today was, were these attacks as a response to the constitutional amendment? Was it because of the renaming of the NWFP? Was it to disrupt this democratic process that is now under way and in the making in Pakistan?

You mentioned President Zardari’s address. It was to a joint session of parliament, his third in 18 months of being president of Pakistan. And it was an historic moment, where an 18th constitutional amendment is being put forward.

So, there is this parallel of how much disruption the Taliban want to cause on a major day for democracy and governance in Pakistan today happening in Islamabad.

GWEN IFILL: Will President Zardari be weakened by this new constitutional amendment which essentially takes powers away from him and gives it back to the prime minister?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, but it takes powers away from the president, but powers that weren’t meant to be his in the first place.

This article 58-2-B has become infamous in Pakistan. I don’t think there’s a Pakistani who hasn’t heard it — it’s like the Fifth in America — because this article has been most controversial. Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif lost their governments to a president who dissolved their government.

Article 58-2-B, if you will just let me explain very quickly, it gives the president the power to dissolve the government at will, when he sees fit. So, entire governments could collapse at the hands of a very powerful president, who then takes over, as we saw with previous governments, as I mentioned.

This was brought back into the constitution by President Musharraf many years ago. And when the PPP government came into power, they had vowed that they would remove it. It’s taken them almost three years, but they have now tabled that.

Yes, it will weaken President Zardari to some extent. But those weren’t powers for his in the first place. And, as he said today, “I am here to empower parliament.” And it’s all about democracy in Pakistan these days.

GWEN IFILL: Saima Mohsin, joining us from Karachi tonight for Dawn TV, thank you so much.

SAIMA MOHSIN: Thank you.