U.S-Pakistan at Odds Over Cross-Border Strikes
September 11, 2008 - 5:19 AMSeven years after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S.-Pakistan anti-terrorism alliance that resulted from al-Qaeda's attack on America may be facing a moment of truth.
On the same day that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told U.S. lawmakers that the Afghanistan mission would place a greater focus on eliminating terrorist safe havens inside Pakistan, Pakistan’s army chief declared that his country’s sovereignty would be defended “at all cost.”
In a strong-worded statement, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said there was no agreement between U.S.-led coalition and Pakistan forces permitting operations like last week’s unusual cross-border raid in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region.
The U.S. has not officially confirmed carrying out the commando operation, which Islamabad says killed 15 civilians but no high-value terrorist targets.
Since the Sept. 3 incident, missile attacks in the tribal belt killed four militants last Thursday and another four foreign militants on Monday, according to Pakistani security officials. Civilians also reportedly were killed in Monday’s strike, which targeted a seminary and houses in North Waziristan.
The raid and more frequent missile strikes from unmanned drones signal a more aggressive policy aimed at depriving Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists of shelter on Pakistani soil, almost seven years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in Kabul. Top terrorist leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are suspected to be hiding out in the ungoverned tribal areas.
“We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan,” Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday. “But until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming.”
Mullen’s message reinforced comments by President Bush Tuesday, when during a speech at the National Defense University he said in reference to Pakistan, “Every nation has an obligation to govern its own territory and make certain that it does not become a safe haven for terror.”
India-based regional security analyst B. Raman said Thursday that the U.S. faced “a cruel dilemma” as a result of Pakistan’s stance.
It could “either act on its own against the sanctuaries in Pakistani territory, thereby running the danger of driving more Pashtuns into the arms of the Taliban and al-Qaeda or continue bleeding helplessly in Afghanistan.”
In his statement, released by the Army’s information bureau, Kayani said “reckless actions” that kill civilians “only help the militants and further fuel the militancy in the area.”
“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan,” he said.
Kayani held talks with Mullen and other senior U.S. officers onboard the U.S. Navy carrier USS Lincoln in the Indian Ocean one week before the commando raid.
He recalled that during those talks, he had stressed to the Americans that military action alone cannot solve the security problem, but that a “political reconciliatory effort” was also needed, “to win hearts and minds of the people.”
“Falling for short-term gains while ignoring our long term interest is not the right way forward,” the statement said.
‘Salute to Washington’
Kayani succeeded former president Pervez Musharraf as army chief last September, and he has kept a low profile since then. After legislative elections early this year, he assured the public that the armed forces would stay out of politics -- an assurance that was welcomed in a country that has endured four military coups and a fifth unsuccessful attempt in its 61-year history.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who was sworn in on Tuesday after forcing Musharraf’s resignation last month, earlier also condemned the raid, calling it “an outrageous and unacceptable violation of the territorial integrity of the country.”
But Zardari, who spoke with Bush by phone on Tuesday, is already coming under fire from critics who foresee a continuation of Musharraf’s pro-U.S. policies. Many were unhappy that the new president shortly after taking the oath held a joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart, President Hamid Karzai, seen by some Pakistanis as a U.S. puppet.
Karzai’s government has been increasingly outspoken in recent months about Pakistan’s perceived unwillingness to act firmly against terrorists who shelter in Pakistan and launch attacks inside Afghanistan. His threats last June to pursue them back onto Pakistani territory drew an angry response from Islamabad.
Qazi Hussain Ahmad, president of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of Islamist political parties, said that by appearing on Tuesday with the “U.S. agent” Karzai, Zardari “has given his first salute to Washington.”
“Zardari has given the message to the West that he is ready to act like Karzai to implement their agenda,” Qazi said in a statement released by his Jamaat-e-Islami organization, one of the five parties in the MMA.
He said Zardari had signaled to Pakistan “that it was now hostage to a new agent of the biggest terrorist of the world.”
Pakistanis who hoped the new president would reverse Musharraf’s policies in supporting of the U.S. anti-terror campaign, and so “end the continuous U.S. attacks from Afghan territory,” had been disappointed, Qazi said.
In an editorial, the daily newspaper The Nation also questioned the new president’s decision to appear so soon after his swearing-in with a leader whose government, it said, “has unleashed a smear campaign against Islamabad.”
“To many Pakistanis, the joint press conference indicated that President Zardari’s foremost priority was the pursuit of the War on Terror in collaboration with Kabul, and the U.S. and NATO troops,” it said. “There are many who see the War on Terror as America’s war and insist that national interests, rather than Washington's concerns, need to be given priority.”
The newspaper also described Zardari’s earlier protests against U.S. operations inside Pakistan’s tribal areas as “half-hearted.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. saw Karzai’s presence at Zardari’s inauguration as” a positive step and a gesture” by the Afghan president.
“Afghanistan and Pakistan have a shared interest … in what happens along that border region,” he said. “Because what happens … along that border region is going to directly affect the future stability of both of those countries.”