Pakistan: Obama 'seems to know more about Islam than our own leaders'

Many welcomed the US president's conciliatory tone and references to Islamic history. Skeptics pointed to the price Pakistan pays for ongoing US involvement in Afghanistan.

President Obama’s speech was broadcast live on Pakistan's plethora of private TV channels (there are dozens) and dissected by analysts throughout the night.

The morning's newspapers, both Urdu and English, carried previews as their lead stories. The TV speech attracted a mostly educated, middle- to upper-class audience, and it wasn't exactly the show-stopper in the tea shops and bazaars that it might have been had he been speaking from Pakistan, but the US president's words were widely followed nonetheless.

Pundits and politicians alike welcomed Obama’s quotations from the Koran, references to Islamic history, and the conciliatory tone. Though Obama made a few direct references to Pakistan, much of the talk focused on Obama’s declaration of an “unbreakable” bond with Israel.

Says Samad Khurram, a Harvard University student who watched the speech in his Islamabad home with four friends: “I thought he was on target on everything, except Israel. He mentioned the humiliation upon the Palestinian people but not the loss of life: It’s hard to ignore the disparity and the numbers speak for themselves.”

Mr. Khurram, nevertheless, was impressed by the fact that “he spoke to Muslims like a Muslim…. He spoke as an insider and that was very welcome. As a speech, it was amazing, right down to the symbolism of the venue.”

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who leads the right-leaning Tehreek-i-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) party, struck a more skeptical tone.

Appearing on Geo News television, he said: “As long as America continues to occupy Afghanistan, Pakistan will suffer from terrorism,” adding that the speech gave nothing more than a vague assurance America would not stay in Afghanistan forever.

Speaking to the Monitor, Sherry Rehman, former information minister and a member of Parliament for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, says: “We should welcome the speech. He spoke with respect, he knew how to pronounce Muslims' names, and he’s shown a willingness to take on the issues.”

She adds: “It’s not a strategic shift, but more a welcome step in the right direction. At this stage, we do need to see more meat on the bones. If you want to talk about South Asia, the United States still has the same military goals.”

Defense analyst Talat Masood, a retired general, says the speech “went right to the heart of the issues that bedevil US-Muslim relations. He was very candid, very clear, and categorical in his desire for a two-state solution and his unwillingness to accept more settlements in the West Bank.”

One taxi driver was particularly impressed when Obama quoted the Koran on how killing one person is equivalent to killing humanity. "He seems to know more about Islam than our own leaders," said Imtiaz, who wanted to give only his first name.

Other reactions around the world

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