ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, (AP) – Suspected U.S. missiles struck a Taliban-linked school in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing nine people in an apparent sign of U.S. frustration with the country’s anti-terror efforts, intelligence officials said.
The strike came hours after Parliament warned against any incursions on Pakistani soil in a resolution that also condemned the wave of terrorism tearing at the country, while stressing the need for dialogue.
“Extremism, militancy and terrorism in all forms and manifestations pose a grave danger to the stability and integrity of the nation state,” the resolution read.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is also in the midst of an economic crisis brought on by high fuel prices, dwindling foreign investment, soaring inflation and militant violence.
Late on Wednesday, the government formally requested financial help from the International Monetary Fund to avoid a possible meltdown, a decision that could cost the government political support.
The suspected U.S. missiles hit the religious school on the outskirts of Miran Shah, the main town in the militant-infested North Waziristan region, four intelligence officials said. The school was not believed to have any students in it at the time of the attack.
Relying on informants and agents in the area, two officials said nine people were killed, including four pulled lifeless from the rubble hours after the strike, and two others were wounded.
The religious school belonged to a local pro-Taliban cleric, the intelligence officials said. The cleric has been linked to veteran Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, considered a top foe of the United States, they said.
The intelligence officials gave the information on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Militants in the northwest are blamed for rising attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan as well as surging suicide attacks within Pakistan.
The cross-border missile attacks have angered many Pakistani lawmakers and the pro-U.S. government has protested them as violations of the country’s sovereignty.
The parliamentary resolution broadly supported the government’s current approach, but it was vague and had few details, apparently a result of political compromise after two weeks of closed-door debate.
It did not directly mention two of the most divisive issues surrounding the terror fight: army offensives in the northwest and calls for unconditional talks with the extremists.
The major opposition parties recognize the need for military action against the insurgents but rarely forcefully express this because they need to maintain support among ordinary Pakistanis who are deeply suspicious of the war.
The seven-month old government — which is desperate for lawmakers to support its military offensive — hailed the 14-point document as a “historic moment for the country.”
“This will definitely help to improve the situation and to rid the country of the menace of terrorism,” Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.
The resolution calls for an “independent foreign policy,” a sign of wariness of American influence. But it also states Pakistan will not let its soil be used for terrorist attacks elsewhere — an apparent nod to U.S. complaints about militants hiding in northwest Pakistan.
The resolution also alludes to the U.S. missile attacks, stating that Pakistan “stands united against any incursions and invasions of the homeland, and calls upon the government to deal with it effectively.”
While saying dialogue “must now be the highest priority,” it stipulates that talks should be pursued with those “elements” willing to follow the constitution and the “rule of law.”
The Pakistani army is engaged in two major offensives in the northwest — one in the Swat Valley and one in the Bajur tribal area. The latter has killed more than 1,000 militants, officials say, including 25 in an ongoing operation begun on Wednesday. The U.S. has praised the crackdowns while warning that peace deals simply let militants regroup.
Pakistani officials had previously said turning to the IMF to avoid defaulting on billions of dollars of sovereign debt due in the coming months would be a last resort. Aid from the agency often comes with conditions such as cutting public spending that can affect programs for the poor, making it a politically tough choice for governments.
But in a statement Wednesday, the fund said Pakistan had requested help “to meet the balance of payments difficulties the country is experiencing.” It said the amount of money requested by Pakistan had yet to be determined and that talks on the loan package would begin in a few days.