The U.S. commander running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, held talks on Monday with Pakistani leaders who told him to stop U.S. strikes on militants in Pakistani territory.
Petraeus arrived in Pakistan on Sunday, at the beginning of his first foreign tour since taking charge of U.S. Central Command, highlighting U.S. concern about a country seen as crucial to stability in Afghanistan and to defeating al Qaeda.
U.S. analysts say Pakistan is facing a major threat from Islamist militants at a time when the nuclear-armed nation and its new civilian government are engulfed in extraordinarily difficult economic problems.
Petraeus has been hailed as an outstanding military leader for helping pull Iraq back from the brink of civil war with a strategy that brought a “surge” of 30,000 extra U.S. troops.
Both U.S. presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, have said they would put more focus on defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and eradicating al Qaeda from Pakistan’s borderlands.
Both candidates have said they would boost U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan from the 33,000 there now.
By Augustine Anthony, Reuters
Petraeus was being accompanied in Pakistan by Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Richard Boucher.
Their visit comes as relations between the United States and Pakistan have been strained by a series of cross-border U.S. strikes, most by missile-firing pilotless drone aircraft, on militant targets in Pakistan.
President Asif Ali Zardari told Petraeus the attacks should stop, Pakistan’s state news agency reported.
“Continuing drone attacks on our territory, which result in loss of precious lives and property, are counter-productive and difficult to explain by a democratically elected government,” Zardari was quoted as saying.
“It is creating a credibility gap,” he said.
The most pressing problems for Petraeus include rising violence in Afghanistan and Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal lands.
The United States and NATO are losing ground against an escalating Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, despite the presence of 64,000 Western troops, while al Qaeda has regained strength in Pakistan’s tribal region.