The liberal US daily newspaper the Washington Post has reported that the US administration is stepping up its unilateral air strikes on Pakistan's tribal areas, out of fear that the new Pakistani government might scale back military operations in the area, which is considered a safe haven for suspected al-Qaeda and other pro-Taliban militants.
Pakistan has been a key ally in the US-led so-called "war on terror" but the tide is changing
Almost two weeks ago now, a missile hit a suspected militant compound in a tribal district of South Waziristan on the Pakistan-Afghan border killing at least 16 people. No one knows officially where the missile came from and who carried out the attack.
Washington, which has in the past targeted suspected Al-Qaida militants in the border region, has not claimed responsibility. Nor has Islamabad confirmed whether the attacks were launched by US drones.
But a report in the Washington Post based on evidence from unnamed US military officials claims that the US has been launching unilateral strikes on Pakistan’s tribal areas from Afghanistan and is stepping up its operations.
The report says that over the past two months US-controlled Predator aircraft have struck at least three sites used by suspected al-Qaeda militants in tribal regions near the Pakistan-Afghan border.
Reportedly, about 45 Arab, Afghan and other foreign fighters have been killed in the attacks. The Washington Post quotes officials as saying that the strikes followed a "tacit understanding" made with President Musharraf and Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani permitting US strikes on foreign rebels based in Pakistan.
Former ISI chief Hamid Gul, however, says that if such missile strikes have taken place, there has been a clear infringement of Pakistani sovereignty. He says that the Pakistani government has denied reports that President Musharraf made such a “tacit understanding”.
“I don’t know whether American officials have been making self-serving statements to the media or whether the government has really done this but if so Musharraf is guilty of treason. Because it is the responsibility of the Pakistani army to save the territory of the country”
Is US about to lose its key ally?
Since the fall of Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistan has been a key ally of the US in its so-called “war on terror”.
But now that an alliance of parties opposing President Musharraf has taken power in Pakistan, the US administration is reportedly worried that the unpopular president might be increasingly sidelined.
The new Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani has so far said the new government wants to maintain close ties with the US but he has also made clear he favours a broader approach to fighting terrorism, which includes political solutions.
Gul thinks a shift in policy towards the US is very likely: “Everyone is expecting this government to perform and the first thing they want the new government to do is to tell the US to lay off. Nawaz Sharif says we cannot turn Pakistan into a graveyard and kill our own people to provide to the US.”
There has also been a growing amount of resentment among the Pakistani population against US foreign policy in recent months.
This resentment was intensified by the recent visit by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher to Pakistan, who arrived in the country just before the new cabinet was revealed.
Their visit sparked huge outrage, with some Pakistani newspapers terming them as “untimely” and “not in keeping with diplomatic propriety”. Other media outlets openly urged American officials to “restrain themselves from further intervening in Pakistan's affairs.”