“We are ready to fight’

Defiance shows difficulty of America’s mission

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – The twisting narrow street reeks of
sewage. A woman hidden beneath a black veil trudges through a
muddy backstreet bazaar in an Afghan neighborhood. An elderly man
wearing a bandolier of bullets across his chest stands with his

And 42-year-old Mohammad Ishaq, tending to bags of rice and
beans in his general store, states the neighborhood position.

“We are ready to fight. We don’t want to fight. But if
somebody attacks Afghanistan, we are ready.”

U.S. military forces are mobilizing.

Fundamentalist forces along the Afghan border seem undaunted.

This past week, thousands rallied in the streets of Peshawar
(pesh-AH-war) warning that a U.S. attack on Afghanistan, where
Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda group are based and have been
welcomed, would amount to terrorism against Muslims.

It remains to be seen how many more across the Islamic world
share their sentiments in the face of a U.S.-led retaliation

“America thinks, “I am the only one in the world, nobody
else, a superpower,'” a mullah told more than 1,000 followers who
closed down a market in Peshawar on Friday.

Henchmen raised sabers around the religious leader as he told
followers how, after the attacks on Washington and New York City
on Sept. 11, “the president … fled his house.”

After the hijackings, the destruction of the World Trade
Center towers and the maiming of the Pentagon, President Bush has
tried to enlist allies around the world to root out international

America’s most wanted suspect right now is bin Laden. The
president has said governments that harbor terrorists will be held

The military ruler of Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Muslim
nation of 141 million, is supporting Bush.

But reaction within Pakistan to Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s
position shows how difficult and potentially divisive the United
States’ declared course may be.

There have been dozens of rallies nationwide, with
fundamentalists burning effigies of Bush and chanting “God is
great!” Musharraf sent soldiers to patrol Peshawar with machine
guns mounted on pickup trucks. In Karachi, two deaths were
reported as riot police suppressed demonstrations.

“We think America is doing wrong,” says Mohammed Qisam, owner
of a cloth shop in a marketplace where other merchants, displaying
vegetables and unrefrigerated meat, squat in the mud. “Osama is
nothing. He doesn’t have the power to attack America.”

Other men gather around him nodding, clamoring with demands
that U.S. officials produce proof of bin Laden’s guilt before
preparing military attacks.

Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, too, has asked for such proof.
Bush has declared there will be no negotiation on his demand for
the Afghanistan government to surrender bin Laden. Still,
administration officials said they are preparing a report that
will link bin Laden to the New York and Washington attacks and
previous terrorist mayhem.

As U.S. combat forces ready for the war on terrorism that
Bush has declared, Muslims in this part of the world wrestle with
doubts and a starkly different view of history.

Afghan people have moved back and forth for centuries across
the border near Peshawar. United Nations officials estimated that
thousands entered Pakistan last week despite Pakistani efforts to
seal the border.

Surrounded by mountainous desert, Peshawar is a borderland
city where men and women line up, separated by a curtain, to send
messages for about $3 a minute at an Internet service. Just a
three-hour bus ride from Osama bin Laden’s terror training camps
near Jalalabad, it also is a hotbed of dissent to the central
government’s policy. “We don’t want any war,” said Abdul Jalil,
the Taliban government representative, standing outside his
consular office. “The Taliban is not against people who live in
America. Taliban is nice people.”

He wouldn’t discuss bin Laden. But he agreed to explain the
Taliban view of the world.

Followers are aiming at a pure “Islamic life” that rejects
much of modern life, Jalil said.

Modern technology such as cellphones and the Internet are
accepted as a “necessity,” he said. But Western technology also
brings problems. Television images of violence and nudity “are
totally against our religion.”

None of this means that Taliban followers hate Americans,
Jalil said.

But U.S. policies often oppress Muslims, he said, and the
Koran calls for a jihad struggle against those who oppress

“We think America must change its policy toward Palestine and
toward Iraq,” he said. “Don’t be cruel to Muslim people.”

Inside his Taliban office, telephones ring from people
wanting to escape Afghanistan. Jalil said he’d just returned to
Pakistan from Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, where poverty is
intense. The government opened up schools as food centers where
“thousands” of children swarm. Yet everyone is ready to fight, he

“All the people there are thinking, if there is an attack, we
must respond,” he said. “We are ready. We will respond to any

Fundamentalist fighters enjoy folk hero status. A lack of
government investment in education means most children attend only
religious schools that spread ideology. It is a movement the
United States helped create.

In the 1980s, U.S. officials working with Pakistani
intelligence officers armed Afghan “freedom fighters” to oppose
Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Bin Laden helped finance the
resistance and reportedly participated in some of the fighting.

Training camps were established, many in Pakistan. After the
collapse of the Soviet Union, more freedom fighters trained in the
camps for another regional conflict: the battle between Pakistan
and India for turf in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, fundamentalist Taliban fighters took over most of
Afghanistan and have sheltered bin Laden, whose extremist views
include declaring a holy war to drive U.S. troops from the Arabian
peninsula. In one statement, he called on Muslims to kill
Americans anywhere in the world.

The degree to which that view is widespread will help
determine the fate of the president’s war on terrorism.

Islamic fundamentalists have clashed with – and, U.S.
officials say, have unleashed terror on – more centrist Muslims.
Bin Laden himself fled Saudi Arabia, where he was born and where
his family’s lucrative construction business was based.

Islamic leaders in the United States and elsewhere have
condemned the terrorist attacks. The president and other world
leaders have urged people to distinguish between most of the
Islamic world and what they define as the violent, extremist
fringe. On Saturday, the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic
relations with Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers for refusing to
surrender bin Laden, the state news agency reported.

That leaves just two countries that recognize the Taliban as
Afghanistan’s government – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis
three years ago downgraded their diplomatic ties with the Taliban,
and Pakistan now has sided with Bush and said the leaders in Kabul
should give up bin Laden.

Yet in Pakistan, a common view, not just among hard-core
fundamentalists but also mainstream businessmen, is that bin Laden
may be wrongly accused.

“Whoever did the attacks, they wanted to make a conflict
between America and Muslim people,” said shoe store manager Zashir
Shah, 21, one of a group of Pakistani businessmen who gathered to
talk things over.

Lead suspect in this conspiracy theory: Israel. The men in
the shoe shop emphasized that they condemned the attacks, which
they watched repeatedly on television like the rest of the world.

But rather than fight terrorism by trying to obliterate
global terrorist networks, the businessmen said, a more effective
strategy for the United States would be to re-evaluate policies
that put Americans at odds with much of the Islamic world.

“Toward Iraq, the policy is not good,” Shah said. “Palestine?
Not good. And the United States has troops in Saudi Arabia. In
America, there is democracy. The people of America must convey to
their leaders that these policies must be changed.”

Experts said bin Laden’s plan is to provoke U.S. aggression
against some Muslims to alienate many Muslims.

The prospect of a U.S. attack and the Pakistan government’s
pledge of support prompted Taliban officials to threaten an attack
on Pakistan. Taliban forces reportedly are massed near the
mountainous desert border. The Pakistani military is on high
alert, with F-16s purchased from the United States whooshing
overhead from Peshawar several times a day.

“If America attacks Afghanistan,” said snuff shop owner
Rehmat Gul, 50, “Peshawar will be in danger.” As for the weapons
that the U.S. gave the Afghans to fight against the Russians, he
said, “now they will use them against us.”

Pakistan’s Musharraf has estimated that 15 percent of
Pakistan’s people oppose his decision to help the United States.
He was trying to win over critics Saturday, meeting with student
protest leaders. But even some who support him hold the view that
the U.S. must rely on more than military action to prevent suicide

The underlying cause of the attacks “is the biased U.S.
policy, tilted against Muslims,” said Javaid Iqbal, manager of the
United Nations office coordinating aid programs for Afghanistan.
His advice to U.S. officials: “Research before you strike.”

And to maintain support among Muslim governments, he said,
Americans should negotiate “on the basis that you value their
ideas, not that you will impose your will and drive them around
like sheep and cattle.”

Pentagon team to visit Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A Pentagon team will arrive in Peshawar
this week for discussions with government officials about specific
support it needs to continue the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The group, drawn from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other
Pentagon offices, will meet with Pakistani military counterparts,
a senior Bush administration official said Saturday.

Pakistan has agreed to close its border with Afghanistan and
to permit U.S. military overflights in the event of an American

But the details of what appears to be a pending operation
need to be worked out.

President Pervez Musharraf has backed the U.S. in its drive
against bin Laden despite strong anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan.

Denver Post staff writer Bruce Finley and The Associated Press
contributed to this report.

At A Glance: Pakistan:

Country: Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Capital: Islamabad Total area: 310,402.97 square
miles (slightly less than twice the size of California)

Estimated Population (July 2000) 141,553,775
Government: Federal Republic

Climate: Mostly hot, dry desert; temperate in northwest;
arctic in north Terrain: Flat Indus plain in east,
mountains north and northwest; Balochistan plateau west

Religions: Muslim 97 percent (Sunni 77 percent Shi’a 20
percent) Christian, Hindu and other 3 percent.

Literacy: 37.8 percent; 50 percent male; 24.4 percent

Life Expectancy: 60 years for men, 62 years for women

Gross Domestic Product per capita: $2,000 (1999 estimate)

Labor Force: Agriculture 44 percent; industry 17 percent;
Services 39 percent

Sources: MapQuest; World Atlas; U.S. Government