Pakistan on Monday told visiting U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus that frequent missile strikes on its territory risk inflaming anti-American sentiment, which in turn would be counterproductive for success in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
David Petraeus, until recently top US commander in Iraq, has been promoted to head CentCom
General David Petraeus arrived in the Pakistani capital only three days after becoming the CentCom chief. Several drone-fired missiles struck Pakistan's Waziristan region the day Petraeus took charge. Since late July, more than two dozen missile strikes inside the Pakistani territory have provided fuel for anti-American sentiment. And during their meetings with the American general, President Asif Zardari and the army chief, General Kayani, conveyed the public anger over these US actions to their visitor. Official sources said the president urged the American army chief not to undermine the elected government by continuing aerial attacks on targets in Pakistani territory.
Former interior minister Hamid Nawaz says Gen Petraeus apparently wants to gauge the situation himself in order to address Pakistani concerns:
"It is an effort to assess the mood of the government and the army. I am sure the Pakistani government and the army would try to tell them that, because of reservations within the army, it is becoming difficult to support these policies. If they continue their popular support will erode very quickly."
Last week, the ministry of foreign affairs summoned US ambassador Anne W. Patterson to protest the continuing spate of missile strikes in the border regions, but apparently with little effect: Only a day later, more missiles landed at two different locations in Waziristan, killing at least 20 people.
"Elections will not make a difference"
Hamid Nawaz says the American army under Gen Petraeus is likely to stick to the strategy it has charted for Afghanistan. He thinks the outcome of the US presidential elections is not likely to have any bearing on this strategy.
"The war on terror in Afghanistan and the region is being termed as a war of necessity, while the war in Iraq is being seen as a war of choice", he explains. "As there is a feeling in Washington that successes have been made in Iraq, the US wants to pull out some troops from there and send them to this region to fight this war of necessity. And as both McCain and Obama are very vocal that they would want to continue with this war of necessity, the result of the election will not make much of a difference!"
Pakistani analysts say General Petraeus' visit to Islamabad indicates the U.S. still considers Pakistan's support in the fight against Islamist extremists crucial. Yet they point out that a positive fallout seems difficult to imagine as long as the American CIA-operated drones continue to fire rockets into suspected militant hideouts, causing dozens of civilian deaths. And it remains to be seen to what extent this trend changes under General Petraeus.