How far will the U.S. go, wonder Pakistanis

Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. Ambassador on Thursday to protest Wednesday’s missile strike, which also came in for strong condemnation by the National Assembly.

The missiles fired by a suspected U.S. drone hit a house in Bannu, a district in the North-West Frontier Province, killing six people. A senior Al-Qaeda operative was said to be among the dead.

Though the U.S. missile strikes in the border regions have become almost routine, this one has sent fresh shockwaves as this was the first in “settled” area of Pakistan (as opposed to the tribal belt) with a proper administrative machinery.

It has raised fears that the U.S. military is getting bolder and advancing deeper into Pakistani territory, and that at this rate may start raining missiles even on cities, on grounds of “actionable” intelligence about suspected targets.

Pakistanis have seriously begun to wonder how far the U.S. will go, and the National Assembly saw a chorus of protests by the opposition and a walkout by a parliamentarian representing the tribal areas.

Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhary Nisar Ahmed of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), demanded the government seek help from the U.N. to end the missile strikes. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani denied a recent report that his government and the U.S. had reached an understanding to enable the missile strikes. “Being chief executive of this country, I want to assure you that there is no understanding [with the U.S.],” he said speaking in the National Assembly.

Musharraf under fire

He said if there was any such understanding between the Musharraf regime and the U.S., the Foreign Office or the government had no record of it. “Musharraf at that time was wearing two hats...therefore, all the decisions at that time were a one-man show,” he said.

He said the National Security Adviser was in constant touch with his U.S. counterpart and conveying concern of the nation to the U.S. authorities. “These [attacks] are adding to our problems...they are intolerable and we do not support them rather condemn them,” he said.

Mr. Gilani expressed the hope that once U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s government was in place, these attacks would end. The National Assembly was also told that the Foreign Office had summoned U.S. envoy Anne Patterson to convey Pakistan’s protest at the latest infringement of its sovereignty.

In Brussels, Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, called for an end to the drone attacks and highlighted the need to reinforce Pakistan’s own efforts against terrorism.

Addressing the NATO military committee on Wednesday at the invitation of its Chairman Admiral Giampaolo di Paolo, General Kayani called for anti-terror operations in “a coordinated manner within respective national boundaries,” according to an Army press release.

Earlier, he held separate bilateral meetings with Admiral di Paolo, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and U.S. Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen.

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