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Large Pakistan Crowds Protest U.S., Western Powers

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Protests Update.

Pakistan: The largest protests reported on 20 September occurred in Pakistan. Police fired tear gas and live rounds at demonstrators, many armed with wooden clubs, as they tried to reach the heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave in Islamabad where Western embassies are located, including the US, British and French missions. One newspaper estimated the crowd at 5,000.


The government called in the army to protect the area after protesters broke through a barrier of shipping containers set up by police to block a road leading to the enclave. Pakistani news outlets reported 50 people were injured, including 44 policemen. One protestor provided his explanation for the continuing protests, "Islam is often ridiculed by America and the West and blasphemy is committed against our Prophet (PBUH) in the name of freedom of expression."

Peaceful demonstrations were held in four cities, including Quetta, Karachi and Lahore. Some Christians staged a demonstration in Chaman in Baluchistan in support of the Muslims.

Germany: Germany has increased security precautions in the Middle East and ordered its personnel to avoid diplomatic facilities on 21 September.

France: In Iran, hundreds of protesters marched near the French embassy in Tehran. A large police presence prevented the mob from storming the embassy compound.

France has ordered its diplomatic missions, cultural centers and schools closed in 20 Muslim countries as a precaution against a violent backlash because of anti-Muslim caricatures published in a French magazine on Wednesday

Comment: There have been multiple demonstrations in Pakistan all week, but this was the first to turn violent in Islamabad. Most diplomatic missions in Pakistan and in other Muslim countries routinely are closed to the public on Friday. US missions will be closed on the 21st in many Middle Eastern and Asian countries as a precaution against violent protests.


Pakistani authorities called for calm to try to avert even larger demonstrations on Friday after prayers. These could quickly exceed the capabilities of police to handle. Another danger is that sympathetic police officers might be less vigorous in enforcing order under these conditions, though Pakistani security thus far cannot be faulted.

The demonstration in Tehran is the first reported against the French embassy, but there will be more. Afghans in Kabul also protested against the new French cartoons today.

Comment: Demonstrations over anti-Muslim publications in the West have tended to flare for a week or two before easing in the past few years. Even demonstrations over Quran burnings in Afghanistan have not lasted much beyond a week. This does not mean to suggest that the sense of outrage is any less, but that people have to go back to work and civil order has to return to normality.

This series of demonstrations appears likely to last longer if only because the outrage is being stoked by new provocations and acts of disrespect by individuals in some Western countries. Expect another surge of demonstrations beginning 21 September. Some are likely to be violent

Afghanistan-US: For the record: US Defense Secretary Panetta said today that the last of the 33,000 surge troops has left Afghanistan, on schedule. The Secretary is in New Zealand to revive defense ties.


Comment: The danger is that the Taliban and other anti-government groups will interpret the end of the surge phase as the beginning of the withdrawal phase. The Taliban interpret as victory any change in Coalition forces and capabilities to sustain morale..

End of NightWatch ###.

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