ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, (AP) – Pakistan is backing off suggestions it might confront U.S. troops making raids into its territory in search of Islamic militants, saying Saturday it will deal diplomatically with Washington over the stepped-up tactics.
Although officials are still unhappy over a recent surge in attacks aimed at Taliban and al-Qaeda havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas near the Afghan border, they also seem to realize there’s not much they can do other than try to convince the U.S. that the strategy is counterproductive because it is generating sympathy for the militants and public anger against both governments due to civilian casualties.
President Bush secretly approved more aggressive cross-border operations in July, current and former American officials have told The Associated Press.
Since Aug. 13 there have been at least seven reported missile strikes as well as a raid by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos that Pakistani officials claim killed 15 civilians in tribally governed territory where the government has little control. The frontier region is considered a likely hiding place for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.
Opposition lawmakers raised the prospect Friday of Pakistan pulling out of the war on terror if the U.S. refuses to respect its borders.
The government and military have issued stiff protests to Washington over the recent rash of cross-border strikes, although the criticism appeared to be mostly rhetoric aimed at soothing domestic anger.
Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the U.S. has to be careful not to dismiss the help it is getting from Pakistan.
He called the raid by ground forces a “risky maneuver” and said that “too many of these operations will make the Pakistani army less willing to work with us,” which could negatively affect future U.S. leadership.
Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has vowed to protect the country’s sovereignty “at all cost.”
But Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, talking with reporters late Friday, said Pakistan would prefer to resolve any issue with Washington through diplomatic channels, adding that the issue will be discussed on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.
“Due this American policy, the tribal people will join militants and our work will be damaged,” he said hours after the latest missile strike killed at least 12 people. “We will not allow any one to interfere inside our country.
“It is not that we will launch any attack. We will try to convince America, we will try to convince Britain that they should respect sovereignty of Pakistan, and God willing, we will be able to convince them.”
His comments were echoed Saturday by Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar, who repeated Pakistan’s contention that it is doing all it can to fight militancy and is suffering as a result; more than 1,000 security forces have been killed since Pakistan allied itself with Washington in its war on terror after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
“As far as my information, we have taken it up at highest level with the State Department and Pentagon,” Mukhtar said of the use of ground forces. “They have given us assurance that it would not be repeated. The agreement we have with them is that we will exchange information and Pakistan military or para-forces will take action against terrorists in Pakistan.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s military said Saturday it killed at least 72 militants and lost eight forces in three days of fighting near the Afghan border, where Taliban and al-Qaida militants are believed to be hiding.