Anti-American Rhetoric Grows Inside Pakistan

As relations between Pakistan and the United States have become more turbulent, Pakistani officials have shown new resolve not to be subservient to Washington. Earlier this week, top Pakistani government and military leaders gathered in Islamabad to discuss relations with the U.S.

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On a chilly evening earlier this week in Pakistan's capital, that country's top government and military leaders gathered to discuss relations with the U.S.

As NPR's Jackie Northam reports from Islamabad., those relations have been in a tailspin for more than a year and anti-Americanism is rife.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: A bustling street market in the heart of Rawalpindi, on the outskirts of Islamabad, bursts with color and sound and scents. You can find pretty much anything you need here. But the shop owners are not a happy lot. They say the economy is bad and they complain about electricity shortages, corruption, and politicians in general. Soon enough they get around to complaining about the U.S. Fifty-year-old Abdul Raful runs a tiny housewares shop.

ABDUL RAFUL: (Through translator) I will say that about the Americans, I will say that they use Pakistan whenever they need and when the need is over, they just leave us alone. So this is their policy. This is how they make policy and this is how they implement their policy.

NORTHAM: Like other shopkeepers, Raful doesn't want to sever ties with the U.S., but he wants Pakistan to take a closer look at the relationship. That's exactly what Pakistan has been doing since late November - after errant U.S. airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

NORTHAM: Hundreds of thousands of people turned out across the country to protest the American airstrikes. Pakistan started to take a tougher stand against the U.S. NATO supply routes to neighboring Afghanistan were shut down. Requests for visits by top American officials were denied, and a parliamentary review was launched to draw up new terms of engagement between the two countries.

Till now, Pakistanis say, many of the agreements have been verbal. Lieutenant General Javed Ashraf Qazi, a former chief of Pakistan's intelligence, says that only works if there is trust between the two countries.

LT. GENERAL JAVED ASHRAF QAZI: This time there has to be very clear understanding of what is expected from either side. So there are accusations and counter-accusations on both sides. These will die down if things are very clear understanding and placed on paper, that all right, this is what we agree, this is what you agree, and then people stick to that.

NORTHAM: The deadline for the parliamentary review has been repeatedly pushed back, but it's believed the lawmakers will issue about 30 recommendations, which could affect U.S. drone attacks, and more broadly counter-terrorism efforts. It's doubtful the review will quell the rising anti-Americanism here, which has been exacerbated by high-profile incidents like last May's operation by U.S. Navy Seals to kill Osama bin Laden. But anti-Americanism is being whipped up by more than just U.S. actions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

NORTHAM: At a huge recent rally of the Pakistan Defense Council, Hafiz Saeed gave a fiery speech demanding that Pakistan break all ties with the U.S. Saeed is the leader of the Islamist group Jamat ud Dawah, which the United Nations deems a terrorist organization.

The group is banned in Pakistan because of its alleged links to the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. Saeed was told by the authorities not to appear at this and several other rallies, but he did anyway. Security forces did not intervene. Western officials here say parts of Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment continue to condone radical groups with their forceful anti-American rhetoric.

But Fauzia Wahab, a parliamentarian and member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, says there are many others who recognize the importance of the long relationship with the U.S.

FAUZIA WAHAB: The group that is anti-American looks like very powerful, and they have some very powerful supporters. But I can tell you and assure you there are people who support better relationship with the United States.

NORTHAM: Wahab says the problem is that those people remain mostly quiet.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Islamabad.

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