Pakistanis Repudiate Violence

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 10, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Oct. 9 -- The television advertisement that debuted this week starts with a simple scene: A mother is waiting on a street corner for her child to get out of school. It looks like any other sunny day in any one of Pakistan's major cities.

Then the car bomb explodes.

The grisly scene is followed by a simple message delivered by a series of glamorous-looking Pakistani celebrities, including movie stars, singers and artists: "We are not terrorists."

A year ago, a major ad campaign focused on the threat of terrorism in Pakistan would have been unthinkable. Pakistanis remain deeply divided over whether the war against Islamist extremism should be fought by Pakistan alone, with U.S. assistance or not at all.

But in the midst of a seemingly unending series of suicide bomb attacks across the country, the public debate over terrorism appears to be taking on a new sense of urgency.

On Thursday, Pakistani lawmakers met for a second day with the country's top security officials in a rare, closed-door parliamentary session devoted to the violence that has gripped the country. The unusual move follows a sharp rise in the number of U.S. missile strikes on alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives in northwestern Pakistan, near the Afghan border.

Two missiles, believed to have been fired by a U.S. Predator drone, crashed into houses in Pakistan's remote tribal areas Thursday evening and killed at least six, Pakistani officials said. Officials in Washington, while not officially acknowledging a U.S. role, said the attacks are needed to combat insurgents whom the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to target.

But the strikes have inflamed tensions locally and have drawn rebukes from Pakistan's fledgling civilian government.

"We really have to define the enemy. I'm seeing a divergence in the enemies of the U.S. and the enemies of Pakistan," said opposition lawmaker Dastigir Khan. "The U.S. is not hitting the targets that Pakistan thinks need to be hit. There might be some sort of overlap, but mostly the U.S. enemies are different from Pakistan's. Pakistan is focused on these homegrown Taliban, whereas the U.S. has different targets in mind."

The rugged, ungoverned borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a haven for Islamist insurgents from around the world. U.S. officials believe the area to be the hiding place of al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, among others.

A short drive away, in Islamabad, security for Pakistan's capital has never been tighter.

For several days, military helicopters have patrolled above the Parliament building. Police checkpoints have multiplied across the city, and barricades can be seen at nearly every major intersection. As if to punctuate the city's vulnerability, a suicide bomber bearing boxes of candy unleashed a powerful explosion in front of a police complex that housed members of the city's anti-terrorism squad only hours before Thursday's parliamentary session. Four people were injured in the attack.

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