Jose Mercury News, Tuesday, November 27, 2001
AMERICA AT WAR
Campaign Still Drawing Support from Both Poor, Wealthy
SCHOENBERGER, Knight Ridder
Pakistan – As the Taliban's leaders head for the hills, there is a real
possibility their special brand of extreme Islam -- mixed with a dose of
terror -- can survive and spread.
especially true if the diplomatic effort to establish a multi-ethnic
coalition government in Kabul fails to represent the Afghan Pashtun tribes
that gave birth to the Taliban. In the Pakistan government's worst
nightmare, that could send a wave of unrest into Pakistan.
Taliban already is a kind of fashion statement in the Punjab, the
heartland of Pakistan and the center of economic and political power in
this Muslim nation. If it takes root, however, there could be serious
consequences for the long-term stability of Pakistan.
euphoria in Pakistan now about the Taliban and Osama bin Laden," commented
Said Ednan Shahid, editor of the Lahore-based Daily Khabrain. "Bin Laden
is like a Rambo for the masses, the lone fighting machine who stands up to
villages to grimy industrial towns to the glittering big city of Lahore,
pro-Taliban sentiments in the Punjab already are pervasive, even as that
government appears to be on its last legs. And anti-Western feelings are
never far from the surface among the poor, as well as among Pakistan's
radical of these views, expressed feverishly around the country in
demonstrations after Friday prayers, have their origins in deeply
entrenched poverty and widespread illiteracy that had been allowed to
fester by a succession of Pakistani governments, both democratic and
popular sympathy is anchored in village life, where public education and
information are scarce and poverty is rampant. In the Punjab, as elsewhere
in Pakistan and in other developing Muslim countries, it is a story of
high and low, with the disparity of incomes widening day by day.
situation in Garhqaim, a typical Punjabi village about 80 miles northwest
of Lahore. The local elementary school stops at grade three, and the
nearest government secondary school is 11 miles away, out of range for
simple farmers who use bicycles and donkey carts for transportation.
where farmers still use camels to haul the rice harvest to the miller,
life is peaceful, picturesque and tragic. It easy to see why Pakistan has
a literacy rate hovering at about 40% and why per capita income is below
The village is
a warren of crumbling cobblestone alleys, lined with open sewer drains, a
decaying brick ghetto terraced gracefully up a slope. It did not get
electricity until 1983. Most homes use hand pumps to draw water. Fewer
than 20% of families own televisions.
19, offers himself as a guide. He speaks passable English because his
parents found a way to send him to Islamabad for schooling.
he admires the Taliban, and everybody he knows in the village supports
them. These are not zealots educated to despise the modern world at
religious schools, but simple farmers with practically no formal education
"I like the
Taliban," said Sultan Ahmad, 50, a taciturn village leader who grows rice
and sugar cane. "People in Afghanistan have been suffering from war for 30
years. The American bombardment has only made it worse."
critical views about the U.S. role in the region are echoed at the other
end of the economic spectrum.
of radical Islam all started in the past 10 or 15 years, when America cut
back on development aid for Muslim countries," said S. Muhammad Ali Shah,
60, a well-to-do property owner who grows cotton and wheat on 200 acres of
fertile Punjab land, deals in urban real estate and backs his young son's
computer- assembly start-up in Lahore.
Shah is the
image of a thoroughly secular Muslim, and he lives behind a high iron gate
in a white mansion with towering columns.
"Not enough is
being done for the poor in Pakistan," said Shah, the former president of
Lahore's Rotary Club who is active in charity work. "The education system
between these two extremes, Lahore's fledgling bourgeoisie also takes a
hard view of America, putting them a step away from joining the ranks of
radical religious political parties openly opposing the military
government of President Pervez Musharraf.
secular Pakistan is endangered because the only alternative to formal
schooling for many indigent parents is to send their children to Islamic
religious schools where they learn nothing about contemporary society.
"It all starts
with education. For the past 20 years, Pakistan's defense spending has
been 40 percent of the GNP (gross national product). Education never got
much over 2 percent."
Qadri, a moderate cleric at the Jamia Mosjid Rehmania Mosque in Lahore's
upper-crust Shadman area, blames poverty for terrorism, but he also takes
America to task.
"A poor man has
no fear of death," said Qadri, whose mosque is just a few blocks from the
slum. "After kicking the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, what has America
done for the Afghan people? Nothing. America is responsible for what has
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