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Pakistanis Protest Attack on Muslim Academy

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Pakistanis Protest Attack on Muslim Academy

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Pakistanis Protest Attack on Muslim Academy

Pakistanis Protest Attack on Muslim Academy

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Thousands of Pakistani tribesmen protest an attack on a Muslim religious academy in Pakistan's Bajur district in Khar, where about 80 people were killed. The Pakistani military describes the attack as a strike on an al-Qaida hideout. Robert Siegel talks with David Montero, correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

At a rally in the Pakistani city of Kahr, some 15,000 armed tribesmen protested against their government and against the U.S. The chanted down with America and down with Musharraf, meaning Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and long live Osama, meaning Osama Bin Laden. Other similar protests were reported around Pakistan. The cause of these protests is yesterday's Pakistani helicopter attack on a madrassa, a Muslim religious academy in a nearby village. It's believed that about 80 people were killed there. The protestors say those were just teachers and students. The government says it was an al-Qaida training base.

Correspondent David Montero of the Christian Science Monitor joins us from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. And David Montero, first what can you tell us about the area of Pakistan where this happened?

Mr. DAVID MONTERO (Christian Science Monitor): Well, it's a rugged, tribal area that borders on Kunar Province in Afghanistan, so it has strategic value. More importantly, though, it's a pretty backwards area as far as development. It's strictly religious. It's a tribal area that has been for the last few years at war with the Pakistani military. So the conditions for violence and extremism are pretty ripe.

SIEGEL: And in the attack yesterday, where so many lives were claimed at the madrassa, does the Pakistani government claim that the people whom they were attacking were armed and fighting against them?

Mr. MONTERO: Yeah, they claim that they had been watching these people for six to seven days based on intelligence, which partly may have been supplied by the U.S., and that they had been warned. The people in this madrassa, which they say was a camp, had been warned to stop their militant activities, that they were armed and that they were plotting attacks, possibly against the Pakistani military. But you know, they haven't disclosed at this point if there was hard evidence of pending attacks.

SIEGEL: Wasn't President Musharraf rather successfully negotiating agreements with local leaders in some of the tribal areas where the Pakistani government's writ does not run very strong?

Mr. MONTERO: Yeah, that's what's really surprising about this attack is that in September, the Pakistani government and the military had brokered a very controversial deal with militants in another part of the tribal zone. As of yesterday, when the attack took place, another similar deal was supposed to be sign in Bajur agency, where this madrassa was. So it seemed to indicate that peace was spreading in this area, so the timing of the attack seems to undermine what Musharraf had otherwise been doing in this area.

SIEGEL: Do Pakistanis believe that there was any American role whatever in this attack on the target in Pakistan?

Mr. MONTERO: Certainly. There is a widely held perception in Pakistan that when its military acts like this, it's doing it at the behest of the United States government, and we have to remember that in January, a similar attack took place in the same area, and that was undertaken by a CIA Predator Drone. So you know, this is pretty fresh in the minds of people in Pakistan that the United States has come in and fired missiles at targets in this area. So I think they wouldn't be surprised that, you know, the United States might do it again, although that's something that U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan have denied.

SIEGEL: And do these protests in the general vicinity in the attack, do they seem to have broader resonance throughout Pakistan? Might it pose any problem for President Musharraf, or is it just one other encounter in the battle against people who don't support his government?

Mr. MONTERO: Yeah, I think that's what's significant about the protests we're seeing. They've been quite large in the area where the attack took place, but if you look outside the area, in mainstream cities in Pakistan, they've been quite small. And I think that just underscores that this is an area that's been neglected by the government, and some people would say it's seen as not really being part of Pakistan.

SIEGEL: That's David Montero of the Christian Science Monitor speaking to us from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. David Montero, thank you very much.

Mr. MONTERO: Thank you.

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