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Asked if he would send his students to defend Afghanistan's Taliban regime, he looked around at his most senior students, many of whom had been with him since they were 10-year-old boys. The mullah said simply, "I would not send them. They would go on their own." One of the young men is beautiful and confident; the others are pimply, awkward. They have the naive look of young men a year or two out of adolescence. They'll be the first to fight and maybe die. When the Taliban took heavy losses last year fighting the Northern Alliance, many madrassas closed; their students had volunteered in Afghanistan.
Looking out at the row upon row of young students sitting at wooden benches memorizing the Koran, a visitor asked if the students believed as the mullah did, and the mullah laughed. "Word for word," he replied, as the students nodded. "We speak with one voice."
While the mullah's views may seem extreme, he is not regarded as particularly radical among Islamic leaders here. And his criticism of Israel and American Jews is echoed all over Pakistan in only slightly more reserved tones.
Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University sits on a stunning hillside outside of town. In the 1970s, the U.S. single-handedly pledged millions of dollars for its construction. Twenty percent of the buildings were complete in 1979 when students sacked the U.S. Embassy here. The 20 percent sits today on a decrepit campus. Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais, the small, dapper director of American studies, is pained by what he sees as rumors and innuendo against American Jews, but he says, "If there is any one source of resentment against the U.S. in Muslim countries, it is support for Israel. It is not popular in the American media to question this support. The time has come that questions must be asked.
"If you offer the Palestinians a state, and it is only 22 percent of Palestinein two fragmentsthen that means 78 percent is for Israel. And the Palestinians' 22 percent is dotted with Jewish settlements. Arafat could never take a deal like that back to his people.
"For one year, the Palestinians are being killed like dogs and catsthese are young children with mothers. [Pakistanis] see the Israelis using U.S.-supplied F-16's. . . . On one side you have the most lethal force; on the other you have kids with stones. So there's this tremendous resentment. Why doesn't the U.S. address the root cause?"
About 100 kilometers from Islamabad, along the Grand Trunk Road near where the Indus and Kabul rivers flow together, the mood begins to change. Black-clad militia and soldiers with guns begin to appear, and the women become progressively more veiled, most now covered from head to toe, with not even slits for their eyes. This is Pakistan's Northwest Frontier province, a rugged, conservative place that shares a 500-mile border with Afghanistan. Peshawar is the last city in Pakistan before the Khyber Pass. The people here are primarily Pashtun, the same tribe Afghanistan's Taliban hail from. This in no small detail in a region where tribal feuds and alliances go back centuries.
There are nearly as many horse-drawn carts as there are cars on the streets. The men drive them standing atop the wooden beds, reins in their hands. They jockey with riotously painted trucks and scooters and motorized rickshaws sporting murals of men firing AK-47s. In the crowded bazaar, the tiny stalls selling fruit, silks, and carpets empty out as the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer at a mosque down the block.
Gul Khan, a local businessman, has been selling blankets from a cramped stall for 40 years. Why does he dislike America? His business is down 60 percent, he says, since U.S. sanctions were imposed following Pakistan's nuclear tests in 1998. Hundreds of millions of dollars in international loans and grants were blocked by the U.S. "Our business is hurt, our lives are hurt, we are barely surviving," he says. Like all Pakistanis, Khan points out that India, Pakistan's archrival, started testing in 1974, with few serious repercussions. Yet the sanctions aimed at both nations in 1998 were especially crippling to Pakistanwhich its people consider further proof of America's double standard.
Night begins to fall; Afghan children are scavenging in a nearby dumpster, and men filtering out of a nearby mosque gather around Khan's stall. They listen to Khan and add comments. All believe essentially the same thing; if there are dissenters they remain silent. "America acts like a global feudal lord, trying to impose its will on others," says Khan. "Whatever they say, they think it becomes law. They can punish anyone anywhere in the world, just because they have the power.
"If America wanted to, it could solve the Kashmir issue today, but it sides with India instead," he says, referring to the disputed Indo-Pakistan border region where a proxy guerrilla conflict has claimed 75,000 lives. "[The Indians] are violators of human rights: torture, rape, extermination. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. India does it in Kashmir; Israelis do it in Palestine. . . . Where was America when this was going on? Now that it happens in America, only now are they talking about it, because it happens in their own country. America should look at the causes of enmity. They should vacate the Holy Land. What happened in your country is nothing new."