Middle East

Anti-U.S. Protests Die Down in Pakistan

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Pakistanis held nationwide protests this past weekend over a U.S. airstrike that killed at least 17 people. Officials have said the intended target was an al Qaeda top operative, but Pakistan intelligence officials say he failed to show. Steve Inskeep talks to New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

All across Pakistan people have been organizing protests against an American air strike.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man: (Shouting in foreign language)

Crowd: (Shouting in foreign language)

INSKEEP: That's the sound of just one of the demonstrations. At another in Karachi, people chanted, `Death to America,' and, `Stop bombing innocent people.' The demonstrations came after a US air strike that killed at least 17 people, including women and children. The strike was aimed at al-Qaeda's second-in-command. Ayman al-Zawahiri was supposed to be attending a dinner in that village, and had he shown up, the headlines would be very different today. One reporter who's covering this story is Carlotta Gall of The New York Times. We've reached her in Peshawar, Pakistan, a major city up near the border with Afghanistan.

And, Carlotta, what's the situation there?

Ms. CARLOTTA GALL (The New York Times): Now it's quite calm. The demonstrations are pretty well over, except maybe in the tribal areas where foreign journalists aren't allowed to go. But we had political rallies across the country yesterday. Today it's business as usual. But I think there is an underlying anger and upset, and it's the thing everyone is talking about; that the American planes could come into Pakistan quite some distance, 40 kilometers, and bomb villages. So I think it's going to keep rumbling along, even if it quietens down on the street.

INSKEEP: As we understand it, some of the rhetoric has been aimed not just at the United States but at Pakistan's government, which is closely allied with the United States.

Ms. GALL: That's right. It's seen ever since the--September the 11th that Pakistan has done everything that America has asked. And Musharraf often comes under criticism for doing--going along with what America wants. And the especially religious parties and the opposition parties use this the whole time--and, of course, especially after these recent attacks--to criticize, you know, his policies across the board: for sending in Pakistani military into the tribal areas and risking Pakistani lives and then also allowing the Americans to do what they want in the border areas.

INSKEEP: You mentioned Pervaiz Musharraf, the president of Pakistan. What has he been saying about this raid?

Ms. GALL: Well, it's interesting that he hasn't said much, except to say--to warn people--in a speech he made Saturday to warn people not to harbor foreign militants. And he inferred that there were foreigners, a foreign presence, as he put it, in the village that was hit by these missiles on Friday morning. So he's sort of defending the attacks slightly in that way, but he's also--his government have condemned the air strikes and condemned the loss of civilian lives. So they're kind of giving a double message

INSKEEP: You mentioned that Pakistan's government, the president, has disapproved or condemned these raids in public. Is there any indication whether the Pakistanis gave their permission in advance for this raid?

Ms. GALL: There's been no formal or official announcement that they were aware of it. I think the thing that most people who are watchign this, you know, all the journalists and analysts, feel that Musharraf wouldn't--this couldn't have happened without his knowledge because he's--all of the military and him in particular are very, very careful about allowing Americans into Pakistani territory. They're very touchy on the sovereignty issue 'cause they know it's explosive politically. So I would have thought it would be inconceivable that the Americans would do this without some sort of agreement, if not specifics, to this village and this moment at least that they have the right of pursuit, for exapmle, and the right to go after specific intelligence.

INSKEEP: Carlotta, we mentioned that 17 people were killed in the strike on Friday. Is there any better information about who those people were?

Ms. GALL: It seems that most of the 17 or 18 we heard were civilians; among them, women and children. But there are other reports from intelligence sources and officials that there were some foreign fighters. Now, of course, that's impossible to verify because, you know, we don't have the bodies and we don't know what happened to them. But it's pretty well-sourced, that story, so it is possible that sympathizers, you know, took the bodies away. And so probably we'll never know.

INSKEEP: We've been talking to Carlotta Gall. She's a reporter for The New York Times, and she's in Peshawar, Pakistan.


Ms. GALL: Thank you.

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