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Pakistani Islamists to protest U.S. raid on bin Laden compound

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s most influential Islamist party urged its followers to hold mass protests Friday to demand their government withdraw its support of the U.S. war on militancy after U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden near Islamabad.

Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country’s biggest religious political parties, said the U.S. had violated the sovereignty of key ally Pakistan by sending its own forces into the garrison town of Abbottabad to kill the Al-Qaeda leader.

Pakistan’s support is key to U.S. efforts to combat Islamist militants, and also to fighting against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

“Even if there was any sympathy for the Americans, that would dissipate after the way they crushed and violated our sovereignty and our independence,” JI chief Syed Munawar Hasan said Thursday.

“We have appealed to everyone to hold peaceful demonstrations Friday on a very large scale,” he said. “Our first demand is Pakistan … should withdraw from the war on terror.”

Anti-American sentiment runs high in Pakistan, despite billions of dollars in aid for the nuclear-armed, impoverished country. Pakistan’s religious parties have not traditionally done well at the ballot box, but they wield considerable influence in a country where Islam is becoming more radicalized.

The U.S. war on terror is unpopular in Pakistan because of the perception of high civilian deaths from drone attacks against suspected militants along the Afghan border.

But many people are also critical of Al-Qaeda’s radical interpretation of Islam and the suicide bombings its followers carry out, and analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said protests are likely to be more anti-U.S. than pro-bin Laden.

“I don’t think they [religious parties] will attract big crowds in these rallies. These protests are unlikely to put any big pressure on the government to change its course,” he said.

There have so far been few public protests in Pakistan against bin Laden’s killing early Monday at Abbottabad, 50 kilometers northeast of Islamabad.

The fact that bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, after having appeared to have lived there for several years, has also embarrassed many people in the government and the country’s powerful spy agency.

Some Pakistanis said they were too preoccupied with the hardships of living in a country with a troubled economy and chronic power shortages to join in any kind of protests.

“There is no electricity, no gasoline, with rising inflation; making ends meet is becoming challenging every single day,” said Sara Ahmad, a government employee in the port city of Karachi.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 06, 2011, on page 10.

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