By Daniel Massey
While images in the American media showed Pakistan’s streets lined with anti-American protesters last week, Pakistani community and business leaders in Queens reacted favorably to Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s show of support for a U.S. military operation in Afghanistan.
The local leaders said that despite the pictures reaching American television sets and newspapers, most Pakistanis in both Pakistan and New York supported the military ruler’s decision to share intelligence with the United States, provide it with logistical support, and allow it the use of Pakistani airspace to wage its global war against terrorism.
“Pakistan is facing a very critical situation,” Musharraf said in a televised speech to his nation of 140 million people last week. In announcing the decision to side with the United States, he said “Pakistan comes first, everything else comes later.”
Ali Mirza, president of Americans of Pakistani Heritage Inc. in Flushing, said Musharraf made the right choice. “We definitely support it,” he said. “I am sure the majority of the Pakistanis support it.”
Ain-Ul-Haq, vice chairman of the Pakistan League of America in Jackson Heights, said Musharraf took a “positive step” in pledging support for the United States. And Ali Multani, who owns a Pakistani restaurant on Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica. said “what he did is good for the country. Everyone is with him.”
Calls for a general strike in Pakistan Friday fell mostly on deaf ears, indicating Musharraf has popular support across the country for his decision, Mirza said. He said the people protesting in the streets of Pakistan Friday were extremist elements who do not represent the opinions of most Pakistanis.
“We know that whenever there are elections in Pakistan, these are the people who don’t get elected for the national assembly,” he said. “They always lose elections and this is how they keep themselves in the news and somehow politically alive by becoming champions of such causes.”
Mirza said it would be impossible to find unanimous agreement in a country as populous as Pakistan. “The point to keep in mind is that in a country of 140 million, if you see a few thousand demonstrating, it is nothing,” he said.
While supporting the Pakistani ruler’s decision, the community leaders said they hope the United States does not forget about their homeland.
“I hope that cooperation will continue between Pakistan and America after this crisis is over,” said Mirza He noted that during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the United States formed an alliance with Pakistan that fell apart after the 10-year conflict ended in 1989.
Ul-Haq said Pakistan suffered greatly after the Soviet Union withdrew in February 1989. “We got all the garbage from that war,” he said. “Arms and ammunition came into our country and ended up in illegal hands. Refugees came. Crime went up. Pakistan faced tremendous problems. We see the same thing might happen again.”
Mirza said he was encouraged that the United States lifted sanctions against Pakistan — which the Washington imposed after Pakistan tested nuclear arms — as a reward for supporting the current military action. He hopes that was just the beginning of a long relationship between the two nations.
“We have seen that relations become very good when America has to form a coalition and needs partners, but when that crisis is gone, the people who support America get abandoned,” said Mirza. “I hope that doesn’t happen again.”
Reach Reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.