State Dept. Spends $70,000 Placating Pakistani Muslims Ahead of Friday Protests

September 20, 2012 - 8:58 PM

Pakistanis protest

Pakistani Muslims protest against the United States in Quetta on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)

(CNSNews.com) – Seven Pakistani television stations broadcast U.S. government public service messages Thursday featuring President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denouncing a film clip insulting Mohammed.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed the ads were produced and paid for by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, at a cost of $70,000.

They aired on the same day as the army had to be called in to prevent violent protestors from breaching a diplomatic enclave where the embassy in located.

As Muslim Friday prayers approach – a potentially volatile time – Pakistan is bracing for the biggest anti-U.S. protests yet since the furor over the film clip available on YouTube erupted last week.

The government has declared a holiday Friday – a “Day of Love for the Prophet.”  All U.S. diplomatic missions in Pakistan will be closed, the embassy said on its Twitter feed, “due to the national holiday.”

The State Department in a new warning advised U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to the country.

In the television ad Obama is seen speaking at the White House on Sept. 12, the day after the violence erupted: “Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”

Then a clip of Clinton, speaking alongside her Moroccan counterpart in Washington on Sept. 13, appears. She says: “Let me state very clearly, and I hope it is obvious, that the United States government has absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”

US public service ad

A screen shot from the public service ad broadcast on Pakistani television stations on Thursday (Image: U.S. Embassy, Islamabad)

Although the remarks by Obama and Clinton were widely reported when made, Nuland said “the sense was that this particular aspect of the president and the secretary’s message needed to be heard by more Pakistanis than had heard it, and that this was an effective way to get that message out.”

The ad was subtitled in Urdu. Nuland said she believed 90 million people would have seen it.

Hardline clerics in Pakistan have been whipping up fury for days, and religious opposition parties at a meeting Thursday demanded action including expulsion of the American ambassador until the U.S. issues an “apology to the Muslim world.”

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who has urged citizens to “protest peacefully,” intends to address the nation Friday on measures the government is taking in response to the denigration of Mohammed.

Those steps look likely to include new demands at the United Nations for global legal restrictions on “blasphemy.”

“The argument that the blasphemous film is part of freedom of expression or speech is not viable,” Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

“We expect the international community to take all steps and make laws that avoid such incidents in future.”

Pakistan’s Express Tribune, citing official sources, said Ashraf “was unsatisfied with statements from high-ranking U.S. officials condemning the anti-Islam movie, and had directed the Foreign Office to handover a demarche to the U.S. envoy in Islamabad and lodge a strong protest against the film.”

In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) continues his effort to get a vote on a measure cutting aid to Pakistan, a move holding up passage of a six-month bill to fund the federal government.

Pakistan has received more than $20 billion in U.S. military and non-military aid since 2001, and the administration foreign aid request for fiscal year 2013 is $2.228 billion.

Paul has been pushing for months for a bill to cut aid to Pakistan, arguing that it has not been a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism. Specifically, he wants the money held up until Islamabad frees Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped the U.S. to track down Osama bin Laden and was sentenced over the summer to 33 years’ imprisonment.

Following last weeks events Paul broadened the initiative, calling for a suspension of foreign assistance to Libya and Egypt as well, until those involved in the assault on the consulate in Benghazi – in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed – and the attack on the embassy in Cairo are apprehended and in U.S. custody.