Pakistan Tells U.S. to Stop Airstrikes in Tribal Zone
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The Pakistani government lodged a formal protest on Wednesday over American missile attacks on the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the nation’s tribal areas and told the American ambassador the strikes should be “stopped immediately,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Ambassador Anne Patterson was summoned to the ministry two days after a missile strike by a drone in South Waziristan killed 20 people, including several local Taliban commanders.
Last Friday, a similar strike hit a religious school in North Waziristan, killing eight people, all of them militant fighters, according to local residents. There have been at least 19 American strikes against the militants in the tribal region since August.
The escalation of the missile attacks has shaken the Pakistani public, and the new government led by President Asif Ali Zardari has been under pressure to distance itself from what is perceived as an American-led fight against terrorism inside Pakistan.
Many Pakistanis, including representatives of political parties in the government coalition, say they believe the increase in suicide attacks, including the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Sept. 20, is in retaliation for the American strikes.
The Pakistani government has taken several steps in the last week to show its sensitivity to public hostility over the missile strikes. A two-week, on-and-off parliamentary debate on how to tackle terrorism resulted in a broad resolution last Thursday that called for talks with militants who renounced violence. The resolution also said the Pakistani Army, which is fighting the militants in the Bajaur region of the tribal area, should withdraw as soon as possible, and be replaced by civilian law enforcement agencies.
On Tuesday, Afghan and Pakistani leaders pledged to seek talks with Taliban forces who lay down their weapons.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration stepped up the missile strikes from Predator remotely piloted aircraft after Taliban forces in the Pakistani tribal belt conducted increasingly lethal attacks against American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The Bush administration has also expressed concern that Al Qaeda is using the ungoverned tribal areas to prepare attacks against the United States and Europe. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Mohammed Sadiq, said Ms. Patterson was told that the missile strikes were “counterproductive” to Pakistan’s efforts to win the allegiance of the residents of the tribal areas and to reduce their support of the militants.
“The drone attacks have negative repercussions when the Pakistani government tries to get the support of the people in the tribal area,” Mr. Sadiq said. “They are not helping meet the objectives of the war on terror.”
After Ms. Patterson left the ministry, the Pakistanis said in a statement, “It was emphasized that such attacks were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and should be stopped immediately.”
The ambassador was last called to the Foreign Ministry to receive a protest after American Special Operations forces carried out a ground raid into South Waziristan on Sept. 3. The Pakistanis said the raid resulted in the deaths of civilians, including women and children.
The chief of staff of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said after the ground attack that Pakistan would defend its border “at all costs.” Since then, there has been no known ground incursion by the Americans.