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Violence may follow Pakistan protests

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (CNN) -- As the United States steps up pressure on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban over last week's terror attacks, fears are growing in Pakistan that anti-American sentiment could soon turn violent.

While protests so far have been peaceful, the Pakistan Government is concerned that bloodshed could follow if a U.S.-led coalition begins retaliatory action against the Taliban.

Pakistan has been plunged into a geographical and political crisis.

The country is sandwiched between Afghanistan on the west and arch-foe India on the east.

While not all Pakistanis shares an anti-U.S. sentiment and support for the Taliban, enough do to seriously threaten the stability of the country and the military government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Already the chants are reverberating through the narrow streets of the north-west border town of Peshawar: "Long live the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Death to America."

General Pervez Musharraf  
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Over 1,000 students from an Islamic religious school Friday marched to protest over Pakistan's support for the United States.

Young men are talking openly of a holy war or "jihad".

These people will be the shock troops in any mass protests against the Musharraf government.

Of added concern is the high level of gun ownership, with millions of firearms in private hands.

"We won't let the Americans use Pakistan to attack Afghanistan," said student Sena Tullah Sahil. "We will fight to the last drop of blood against the enemies of Islam."

As President Musharraf struggles to convince his people that siding with Washington is the right decision, such sentiments have been heard with increasing frequency at similar demonstrations across the country.

Speakers at Friday's Peshawar gathering warned of armed struggle if the U.S. attacks.

Many residents have longstanding links of religion, ethnicity and blood with neighboring Afghanistan.

The organizational backing for such protests comes from a network of religious schools called Madrassas run by Islamic fundamentalists like Quri Fayaz Ur Rahman. Many have close ties to the Taliban.

"Terrorism is different from jihad, or holy war," he said. "Jihad is to fight oppression. And if innocent Afghans are killed in attacks, that is oppression."

It's a world view that sees U.S. President George W. Bush as a symbol of evil, to be burned in effigy, and Osama bin Laden as an Islamic hero.

Musharraf appealed Wednesday for his people's support and trust as he laid out reasons for joining the U.S. in an international coalition against terrorism.

In a nationally televised address, he said Pakistan has received requests from the U.S. to share information, allow use of its airspace and provide logistical support.

And while military retaliation is not imminent, Musharraf said, the United States has the support of a United Nations resolution -- backed by Islamic nations -- to fight terrorism.

Risk of being cut off

He emphasized that any decision Pakistan makes will be for the "right cause" and "according to the tenets of Islam."

And a wrong decision on Pakistan's part, he said, could damage all those concerns and "lead to an end that is unendurable," one that could "put in danger Pakistan's very existence."

Musharraf said Pakistan, which is under U.S. economic sanctions that were imposed after its nuclear testing in 1998, must face a choice between joining the international community -- thereby gaining the ability to influence decisions on the use of force against Afghanistan -- or being cut off.

Senior State Department officials told CNN a U.S. interagency team is expected to leave for Pakistan this weekend to discuss details on how the U.S. would like Pakistan to cooperate in its fight against bin Laden and his terrorist network.

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