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Taliban bombs fan Pakistan distrust of US

Umar Hayat was among scores of volunteers who worked for days to find survivors after Pakistan's worst bomb blast in two years, panic rising as he scrambled through scorched rubble.

world Updated: Dec 07, 2009 08:08 IST

Umar Hayat was among scores of volunteers who worked for days to find survivors after Pakistan's worst bomb blast in two years, panic rising as he scrambled through scorched rubble.

Clawing at debris after a massive bomb pulverised a busy market in Pakistan's northwest capital Peshawar on October 28, Hayat could find no trace of his eldest son, 11-year-old Mohsin.

"One after another, we found dead bodies. Soon after burying my brother, I came back to the bomb site. I found my son's body at midnight. The next day, in the afternoon, we found my nephew's body," Hayat told AFP.

"My wife is still in shock. I don't know what to do. She spends the whole time crying and saying 'bring back my Mohsin'."
But rather than feeling disgust at Taliban fighters blamed for an attack that killed 125 people, Hayat holds the United States responsible, reflecting a deep-seated distrust felt throughout Pakistan.

"I appeal to America, please leave us be. Please stop this game, this war on terror. Osama (bin Laden) is just a smokescreen to attack Muslims," Hayat said.

"Stop it. How many more lives will you take in revenge for the World Trade Centre? Do you want to destroy the whole of Pakistan?"

Washington is trying to win firmer backing from Pakistan to fight extremism as it prepares to deploy 30,000 extra troops to end the war in neighbouring Afghanistan, but reaction to the new strategy has been scathing.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani asked US President Barack Obama for more clarity, while many fear an increased troop presence could send more militants flooding into Pakistan as after the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

On the streets, people are already struggling to cope with increasingly potent suicide bombings.

Officials blame the blasts on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants, the architects of a two-and-a-half year insurgency that has killed more than 2,600 people in attacks across Pakistan.

Parents have lost children. Children have been orphaned. Struggling to comprehend the scale of the violence, conspiracy theories abound.

"What did my father do? Why did somebody do this to us?" said Rashid Javed, who lost his father and two cousins on October 28.

"Half his (my cousin's) body was missing. We received the upper half... I think America, Israel and India are involved. The Taliban can't do this -- they used to target only police and army men."

Such views are widely held in the conservative Muslim city of Peshawar, a cultural capital for Pashtuns, the ethnic group that provides a bulk of Taliban support in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The sentiments, which echo pan-Islamist radicalism, are fuelled locally by Taliban propaganda blaming America and arch-rival India for Pakistan's ills and accusing the United States of trying to occupy the region.

CDs and DVDs can be bought in markets. Statements are distributed.

Text messages of shadowy origin go from phone to phone, spreading rumours that the United States deployed hundreds of Marines to Pakistan or that the private US security firm formerly known as Blackwater is operating in the country.

In mosques, preachers rail against "foreign elements" allegedly meddling in Pakistan's affairs.

The US embassy has sought to scotch the rumour mill by putting out statements denying reports of a Blackwater presence, but anti-American feeling in Pakistan has deep roots.

Many people feel bitterness over what they saw as US abandonment of the region once the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on Pakistan's northwest, blamed US foreign policy over the years, particularly the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"There are strong anti-American sentiments in this region and this is because of American policy and its role in this region since the Russian invasion in Afghanistan," Yusufzai said.

Fuelling anger are regular US missile strikes targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan's northwest.

US drone attacks have killed around 625 people in the last 15 months, with Pakistanis seething at the perceived violation of sovereignty and reports of civilian casualties.

"I'm sure it was a drone attack," said Ghulam Ali, looking at his cotton shop, which was damaged in the Peshawar blast.

"We are fed up. I can't believe the Taliban are involved in these bombings. I'm sure the troika -- America, India and Israel -- is doing all this."