US embassy plans spur rumours, concern in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) - America’s plans for a major expansion of its diplomatic presence in Pakistan, including the possible takeover of a bombed luxury hotel near the Taliban heartland, have heightened tensions and bred rumours in a population rife with anti-U.S. sentiment.

Among the tales being floated: that 1,000 U.S. Marines will land in the capital, that Americans will set up a Guantanamo-style prison and that the infamous security contractor once called Blackwater will come in and wreak havoc.

The frenzy, much of it whipped up by the media and Islamist political parties, shows the difficulties for the U.S. as it seeks to increase its engagement in a country where a flourishing militant movement is threatening the war effort in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The U.S. says it needs to expand mainly to disburse billions of dollars more in aid to Pakistan, an impoverished nation of 175 million people.

Pakistanis tend to view U.S. motives with suspicion, pointing to a history of American support for the country’s past military rulers and involvement in its internal affairs, which they say has stunted the economy and democratic aspirations.

Others believe the U.S. is out to end Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, a source of domestic pride.

"Even an illiterate person knows that the Americans are against our nuclear program, and they will not miss any opportunity to destroy" the nuclear facilities, said Humayoun Qaiser, 23, a student at an Islamic university in Islamabad.

In recent weeks, several newspapers have published unconfirmed reports that 1,000 U.S. Marines will be posted at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad - which would be a significant jump from the nine there now. U.S. officials say at most the number may reach 20. Marine security guards are routine at U.S. missions abroad.

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