I rode the bus to Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University each day. We students never said much during the ride, but we could look over the fence as we passed through the diplomatic enclave. Sometimes we could see Russians playing tennis on the Russian Embassy grounds or Americans splashing about in a swimming pool inside the American Embassy compound.
Political talk came often at the small tea stall behind the university. Students gathered there, between classes and in the late afternoon. We talked about colonialism and neo-colonialism and the future of Pakistan. The words came easily and sometimes very angrily.
Small boys served drinks: tea for a nickel and Seven-Up for a dime, Sometimes the small boys would be slow and the students would shout and the small boys would come running. More drinks would be brought and the talk would again turn to political issues and the future of Pakistan.
The Islamic fundamentalists saw salvation in a return to Islamic ideals. Many read books by religious leader Sayyid Maududi and talked about the Koran as a political and spiritual guide. "Maududi is concerned with all aspects of modern life," one student said, mentioning a series of books written by the religious leader on birth control, minorities, economics and other issues. More radical students formed Marxist study groups and had a slogan they repeated often: "Learn from the past; don't worship it."
Both groups agreed when they discussed the international order. America was an evil force in the world. American business interests had their fingers in countries everywhere. If Pakistan failed to develop during the 1960s, it was because the United States involved itself too deeply in Pakistan's affairs. If Pakistan failed to develop in the 1970s, it was because the West refused to share resources with developing countries.
Many students believed the CIA had played a part in the downfall of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Many speculated as to why the United States opposed Pakistan's purchase of a nuclear reprocessing plant from France. Conspiracy theories were often put forward, with frequent references to "Zionist plots." Once a student spoke of "the Jews," and another student interrupted. The Zionists, not the Jews, he said quickly; the struggle was against the Zionists, not Jewish people. The statement was not convincing, and there was a long and awkward silence.
Palestinian students were the most outspoken and politicized of all the students at Quaid-i-Azam. Their cause was widely respected and supported, by both fundamentalists and radicals. The authorities also respected the Palestinians. When Palesinian students led a demonstration and shouted slogans -- "Zia cutta hai!" ("Zia is a dog!") -- against the president of Pakistan, nothing was done. If the students had been Pakistanis, the demonstration might have been stopped immediately.
Just before leaving Pakistan, I camped in the mountains northeast of Islamabad. Three friends were there: a computer science student from Quaid-i-Azam, a geology student from the University of Punjab and a recent high school graduate who planned to join the army. They asked about America -- about social customs, about religion, about financing education, about prospects for jobs.
"You are an American and we have been talking," the computer science student said, looking toward the city and the small lights marking streets, residential districts, the university and the diplomatic enclave. "We talk as people," the geology student said, "but as countries we are far apart."
It seemed strange then, and it has always seemed strange.
And then the burning embassy in Islamabad, and six people killed: two American servicemen, two Pakistani employees of the embassy and two demonstrators. The Marines guarding the embassy were young -- younger than most of the attackers. The embassy employees had no quarrel with their countrymen. Many of the students were from Quaid-i-Azam.
Newspapers said there had been reports of a conspiracy against the Great Mosque in Mecca, a plot inspired by Zionists and the United States. The students had reacted violently. News films showed an angry mob and raised fists and slogans against the "American dogs." I saw hatred in their eyes and felt the bitterness -- a bitterness not between people, but as coutries far apart.