B. Muralidhar Reddy

"What the Musharraf Government faces is the deaths of 18, mostly women and children. It also faces the fallout of the intelligence botch-up - not the first when it comes to the Pakistani and American snoops."

ISLAMABAD: Even as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday justified the Friday air attacks on a village in the restive Waziristan bordering Afghanistan, Opposition parties have threatened to intensify protests against it.

Dr. Rice has been quoted as telling reporters accompanying her en-route to Monrovia that Washington could not deal "lightly" with Al-Qaeda and is ready to address Islamabad's concerns after the U.S. attack which led to 18 deaths.

The attack - denounced by the Government - has been roundly condemned by political parties and civil society as infringement on the sovereignty of Pakistan. A group of Opposition parties has moved a motion for adjournment of the Senate to discuss the situation arising out the attack.

On Sunday the religious parties organised a nation wide protest. The air strike is purported to have been carried out at the behest of the CIA on the basis of intelligence that Osama bin Laden's trusted aide and number two in the Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was sheltered in the village. Pakistan has maintained that it is neither in a position to confirm or deny the report.

The attack has been widely criticised by the Pakistani media and the political parties across the board. The consensus is that Washington has neutralised the goodwill it earned through help to the people in the earthquake affected areas as a result of the "reckless" attack.

Even President Musharraf backed ruling Pakistan Muslim League party organised a protest meeting. The English-language newspaper, Daily Times, in an editorial headlined "Pantomime about al-Zawahiri," asked: "If the `intelligence' was faulty, whose intelligence was it? What the Musharraf Government faces is the deaths of 18, mostly women and children. It also faces the fallout of the intelligence botch-up - not the first when it comes to the Pakistani and American snoops."

Another leading daily, The News, reminded readers that eight civilians on the Afghan border were killed in another apparent U.S. missile attack earlier this month.

The editorial said if American forces had information about Zawahiri they could have entrusted Pakistani forces with the task. "Regardless of the Americans' willingness to share intelligence with us, it isn't part of the deal that they violate Pakistan's territory, and kill Pakistani citizens to boot," it said.