In Karachi, which saw the fourth straight day of protest rallies, paramilitary troops were deployed in strength outside establishments with a U.S. connection such as fast food outlets owned by chains such as McDonalds and KFC and banking establishments including American Express and Citibank.
Police officials estimated that some 20,000 people joined the rally, but most observers said as many 50,000 people could have taken part.
Sultan Jilani, a noted commentator, told IPS that he perceived a "deliberate design behind these protests (by right-wing religious groups) because spontaneous outbursts should have died down long ago.
"Anti-American sentiment is widespread among Muslims everywhere. This is fed by America's wars of choice leading to foreign occupation, atrocities and prisoner abuse," said Jilani.
While Thursday's rally was peaceful, its organizer, the pro-Sunni Jamaat-al-Sunnat, has warned of unceasing protests in the days to come. Pakistan, which is preparing for a visit in March by President Bush, has provided the settings for some of the angriest protests against the cartoons.
U.S. ambassador in Pakistan Ryan Crocker was quoted telling reporters in Muzaffarabad on Thursday that there were no plans to cancel the Bush visit, the dates for which are yet to be announced.
Wednesday witnessed violent protests in the cities of Lahore and in Peshawar that were directed at establishments with U.S. links. On Tuesday, in the capital of Islamabad, protesters rampaged through the well-guarded diplomatic enclave hurling stones and damaging cars.
So far, at least five people have died in violent protests in Pakistan while, the world over, at least 20 were reported killed in two weeks of unrest, triggered off by the depictions of Prophet Mohammed, considered blasphemous by Muslims.
Anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan has been growing since January when U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan fired missiles across the border targeting top leaders of the al Qaeda organization, resulting in the death of 18 people, including women and children.
Fundamentalist groups in Pakistan are also opposed to the support given by the Musharraf regime to Washington's "war on terror" and have close links with the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan until ousted by the U.S. and its allies in 2001.
According to Jilani, the current spate of violence has a distinct pattern in the use of anti-U.S. sentiment as a rallying point with the objective of seizing power in major Muslim countries.
"A strong impression is emerging that the extreme religious right in key Muslim countries has its sights focused on political power through agitation. It has already happened in several Muslim countries, while in countries like Indonesia and Pakistan there is a sense that power is only short distance away," Jilani said.
According to Jilani, Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to a fundamentalist takeover as it "occupies an important place among Muslim countries and the religious parties here are far more organized and articulate."
After the U.S. war against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s, Pakistan emerged as a sort of "general headquarters for the international Islamic Revolution," Jilani said.
Pakistan's fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, for instance, has formulated and propagated a sophisticated ideology that, in conjunction with the Akhwanul Muslameen's (Muslim Brotherhood) of the Arabs, has inspired young men in eastern Asia and Africa as well as in the West.
"Islamic extremism as a general climate of opinion for the right has become a force to reckon with in Pakistan. It has penetrated many institutions of the state including the army and the bureaucracy," Jilani said.
According to B.M. Kutty, general secretary of the National Workers Party (NWP), much of the trouble in Pakistan can be traced to the funding and promotion of fundamentalist organizations by the rulers of the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.
"It is time these monarchs stopped promoting religious organizations as a safety device for their own survival because this is the most direct cause of what the U.S. describes as terror -- these kings and sheikhs dare not directly fund terrorists but instead support organizations in poorer countries that produce revolutionary ideas and act on them," Kutty said.
Comments? Send a letter to the editor.
February 16, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.