News

Pakistan: Threat or lip service?

The furor intensified Friday over Washington's decision to pursue Islamic militant targets inside Pakistan, with opposition lawmakers threatening the country could pull out of the war on terror if the U.S. refuses to respect its borders.

About 100 protesters burned American flags after the latest missile attack left at least 12 people dead in the North Waziristan region of the troubled northwest. Residents said they heard the sound of propeller-driven U.S. Predator drones circling overhead before the explosions.

President Bush secretly approved more aggressive cross-border operations in July, current and former American officials have told the AP.

Since Aug. 13, there have been at least seven reported missile strikes as well as a raid by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos that Pakistani officials claim killed 15 civilians in tribally governed territory where the government has little control. The frontier region is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Pakistan's government and military have issued stiff protests to Washington over the recent rash of cross-border strikes, although the criticism appeared to be mostly rhetoric aimed at soothing domestic anger, given that Pakistan has few options.

Domestic media have criticized the government for not reacting more strongly, even suggesting the public criticism is just lip service and that a secret deal has been reached with Pakistan allowing cross-border incursions.

Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has denied that and vowed to protect the country's sovereignty.

Leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari, have reiterated their commitment to fighting violent Islamic extremism and have aired no threats to withdraw cooperation.

Parliament has few options beyond issuing a condemnation of cross-border raids and reiterating the country's sovereignty.

Realistically, there's not much Pakistan can do to stop the U.S. from mounting cross-border attacks, short of shooting down helicopters carrying allied forces. And breaking off relations would mean an end to billions of dollars in U.S. aid at a time when Pakistan's economy badly needs foreign assistance.

AP writers Stephen Graham, Ishtiaq Mahsud, Khalid Tanveer and Carley Petesch contributed.
  Comments