Jane Perlez / New York Times – 2008-10-30 09:52:14
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (October 30, 2008) — The Pakistani government lodged a formal protest on Wednesday against US missile attacks on the Taliban and al Qaeda in the nation’s tribal areas and told the US 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 aircraft 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 US strikes against the militants in the tribal region since August.
The escalation of the missile attacks has riled 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 a US-led war on terror inside Pakistan.
Many Pakistanis, including representatives of 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 a result of the US strikes.
In response to the opposition to the missile strikes, the government has taken several steps in the last week to show its sensitivity to the public hostility. A two-week, on-and-off parliamentary debate on how to tackle terrorism resulted in a broad resolution Sept. 23 calling for talks with militants who renounce violence. The resolution also said the Pakistani army, which is fighting the militants in the Bajur 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 weapons.
In contrast to the calls for talks, the Bush administration has stepped up the missile strikes from the Predator pilotless aircraft after Taliban forces in the Pakistani tribal belt conducted increasingly lethal attacks against US 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 that Patterson was told that the missile strikes are 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,” Sadiq said. “They are not helping meet the objectives of the war on terror.”
After 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 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.
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