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Ordinary Afghans Voicing Increasing Distrust Of Pakistan's Intentions

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, in Istanbul on November 1
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (left) and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, in Istanbul on November 1
Afghans are putting their anger over Pakistani policies regarding their country on full display.

Protests have been staged by Afghan youths objecting to statements made by Pakistani public figures. And Afghanistan's media and civil society have moved to the forefront to resist perceived efforts by their eastern neighbor to fill the vacuum as the West looks to exit their country.

Combined, they help capture the public mood and uneasiness about Pakistani intentions on their soil, even as the two countries' presidents -- Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari -- cite progress in restoring trust, as they did during a face-to-face meeting in Istanbul on November 1.

In the eastern city of Jalalabad, located about 50 kilometers from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, hundreds of youth activists gathered on October 30 to protest recent statements made by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and pro-Taliban Islamist leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Musharraf, who was ousted from the presidency in 2008 and now lives in exile in London, made his controversial remarks before a think-tank audience in Washington on October 26.

"Afghanistan always has been anti-Pakistan because the Soviet Union and India have very close relations in Afghanistan," he said. "So we must not allow this to continue because then one must not [be]grudge if Pakistan orders the ISI [the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency] to take countermeasures to protect its own interests."

Promoted Violence

Statements made in Peshawar on October 23 by Rehman, the leader of Pakistan's conservative Jamiat Ulama-e Islam party, came under fire because he promoted violence in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban, even as he denounced violence in Pakistan by the Pakistani Taliban.

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf: "Afghanistan always has been anti-Pakistan."
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf: "Afghanistan always has been anti-Pakistan."
For their statements, Musharraf and Rehman were characterized as hypocrites and accused of fanning conflict in Afghanistan and of looking out only for Pakistani interests.

Saifur Rehman Abid, a local leader, received strong backing as he read out a unanimous resolution the gathering adopted during the October 30 gathering.

"The elected federation of the youth and the Nangarhar Youth Shura [council] strongly condemns the latest statements of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Maulana Fazlur Rehman about Afghanistan," Abid said. "Afghanistan is an independent country and has a right to sign strategic pacts with any country to preserve its national interests."

'Interfering Openly'

The Afghan media have been quick to criticize such comments, as well.

Kandahar-based analyst Mohammad Omar Sathey says opinion makers and tribal leaders now consider Pakistani interference a key factor for instability in their country since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

"Our civil society, intellectuals, and the public knows that Pakistan is interfering openly," Sathey said. "They think that instability and war in Afghanistan is a source of income for Pakistan because it attracts international help in the name of fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It also has convinced the international community that its influence inside Afghanistan is the key to resolving the problem there."

Such perceptions are further strengthened by what Afghans see, hear, and read in the Pakistani media about their country.

Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based columnist, says that during the past two decades Pakistani media have created a perception that Kabul needs to toe Islamabad's line. Few Pakistani journalists ever report from Afghanistan, despite the fact that Afghan issues often dominate Pakistani news bulletins.

"Overall, the media's role has remained negative," Yousafzai said. "The print and electronic media, the magazines, and the books published in Pakistan still treat Afghanistan as Pakistan's fifth province. Their coverage creates an impression that Afghanistan needs to follow on whatever Pakistan wants it to do."

Afghan politician and popular TV presenter Daud Sultanzoi says that Afghan perceptions of Pakistan can only change if they see a genuine transformation of Islamabad's outlook about their country.

"Pakistan should accept the fact that Afghanistan is not its puppet state," Sultanzoi said. "Another important prerequisite is that a civilian government in Pakistan controls its strategic direction, including control over its military and intelligence services."

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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