The next U.S. president must halt missile strikes on insurgent targets in northwest Pakistan or risk failure in its efforts to end militancy in the Muslim country, the prime minister warned Tuesday.
Yousuf Raza Gilani said visiting U.S. Gen. David Petraeus “looked convinced” when he warned him the strikes were inflaming anti-American sentiment but that he got no guarantee the attacks would end.
Gilani‘s remarks in an interview with The Associated Press underscore how shaping a policy to deal with the militant threat in nuclear-armed Pakistan and its new civilian leaders will be a key task for the next U.S. president.
They also revealed the rising strain the missile strikes have placed on relations between the two nations seven years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks forced them into an uneasy alliance.
By NAHAL TOOSI, Associated Press Writer
In this picture released by Press Information Department, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, right, meets U.S. Central Command Gen. David Petraeus, center, and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, left, in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Monday, Nov.3, 2008. Pakistan on Monday urged the general taking charge of America’s two wars to halt missile attacks on militants in its border badlands and avert a backlash against the U.S. in a country vital to its fight against terrorism.(AP Photo/Press Information Department, HO)
“No matter who the president of America will be, if he doesn’t respect the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan … anti-America sentiments and anti-West sentiment will be there,” said Gilani in his heavily guarded residence atop a hill in the capital, Islamabad.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama has said if he is elected, he could launch unilateral attacks on high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan as they become exposed and “if Pakistan cannot or will not act” against them. Republican rival John McCain says engaging Pakistanis is vital to defeating extremists and that cross-border strikes shouldn’t be discussed “out loud.”
As Gilani spoke, several thousand Pakistanis demonstrated against the strikes in a town in the border region and the southern city of Karachi, burning U.S. flags, witnesses said.
Over the last two months, the U.S. has launched at least 17 strikes on militant targets on Pakistan’s lawless side of the Afghan border.
The region is home to scores of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters believed involved in attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, where violence is at its highest levels since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.
The missile strikes are widely seen as sign of increasing frustration in Washington at Pakistan’s unwillingness or inability to tackle the threat emanating from the region, which is believed to be a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden.
The strikes — and a highly unusual ground attack by U.S. forces in September — have killed at least 168 people, including some top extremists but also many civilians, according to Pakistani officials.
The prime minister said the attacks, which have occurred in semiautonomous tribal regions, were “uniting the militants with the tribes. How can you fight a war without the support of the people?” he said.
He said the U.S. should cooperate with his country’s military, sharing intelligence, to allow Pakistan to go after the targets itself.
“Either they should trust us and they should work with us, otherwise, I think it’s a futile exercise,” he said.
He also said the missile strikes served as a distraction to Pakistan’s own military operations against insurgents in its border regions. The army is currently in the midst of two major anti-insurgent operations in the northwest.
“Their strategy is not coinciding with our strategy,” Gilani said. “Our strategy is to take one area at one time.”
On Monday, Gillani and other Pakistan leaders held talks with Petraeus, who is making his first tour of the region since taking over U.S. Central Command last week, a post that puts him in charge of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
He has met with President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, among other senior leaders.