Pakistan Opposes Unilateral U.S. Missile Strikes in Tribal Area
By James Rupert
April 4 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan's government will press the U.S. to stop firing missiles without approval at suspected al- Qaeda militants in its territory, foreign policy specialists in the new ruling coalition said.
Since 2002, President Pervez Musharraf has let the U.S. shoot missiles from its Predator pilotless airplanes into Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal region, an area bordering Afghanistan that U.S. officials say is a haven for al-Qaeda.
The new government faces public pressure to step back from cooperating with the U.S. war on terrorism. Missile attacks sparked countrywide demonstrations in 2006 after civilians were killed in strikes.
If the U.S. insists the Predator missions are ``absolutely necessary, then a new framework will have to be put into place permitting this routine under carefully defined conditions,'' said Asif Ahmed Ali, a former foreign minister and member of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which heads the governing coalition.
The other main party, the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is ``opposed to the involvement of any foreign forces in Pakistan,'' said Muhammad Mehdi, a party foreign relations official. ``The American missiles will have to stop, 100 percent.''
The Peoples Party, which stresses it will continue overall cooperation with the U.S., will probably prevail over Sharif's harder line, as it holds the key ministries of foreign affairs, defense and internal affairs in the new Cabinet.
``From the American viewpoint, the Predator is the only game in town for us to have even a remote chance'' to capture or kill al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, said Michael Scheuer, a former Central Intelligence Agency official who hunted bin Laden for eight years.
``I would think the program is so important'' that the U.S. government ``will probably ante up something to keep it going,'' Scheuer said.
The Predator operation is one of several counterterrorist policies being re-negotiated by the Bush administration and the civilian government that is displacing Musharraf, said Kamran Bokhari, director of Middle East analysis for Strategic Forecasting, Inc., a Texas-based political analysis company.
CIA Director Michael Hayden declared March 30 that the Pakistani border area presents a danger to the U.S., a signal to ``the new government that, look, the Predator strikes are a key U.S. interest,'' Bokhari said.
Hayden's statement, on NBC's Meet the Press, ``was part of the posturing'' that is ``setting up the parameters for negotiations,'' Bokhari said in an interview. After years in which the U.S. arranged its relationship with Pakistan at ``the one-stop shop that Musharraf ran,'' this is ``a fluid, evolving modus vivendi,'' he said.
The government is making a ``detailed evaluation'' of Pakistan's counterterrorism policies, the office of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani said this week after the army chief, Lieutenant General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, briefed the coalition's leaders on security.
``Kayani and the army are supporting the government'' in its demands for more control in Pakistani-U.S. cooperation against terrorism, Bokhari said. The army fears another U.S. attack that kills Pakistanis may ignite new protests that the army might then be called on to suppress, he said.
The CIA flies the Predators from two Pakistani military bases and independently selects and attacks al-Qaeda targets, the Washington Post reported March 27, citing unidentified U.S. officials. The agency increased its attacks in recent months out of concern the incoming civilian government would ban them, the newspaper said.
The 27-foot- (8-meter-) long Predator plane is controlled by satellite. After al-Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., the CIA armed Predators with Hellfire anti-tank missiles.
Official figures on how many missiles have been fired into Pakistan are not released. The government bars overseas visitors and restricts journalists and independent observers from entering the tribal zone, called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
On Dec. 1, 2005, missiles from a Predator killed Abu Hamza Rabia, an Egyptian militant who was al-Qaeda's operational commander, according to U.S. officials cited at the time by news organizations.
In the latest killing of a prominent al-Qaeda commander, a missile slammed into a home in Pakistan's North Waziristan district on Jan. 29, killing Abu Laith Al-Libi, a Libyan.
Other strikes have triggered protests in the tribal region and Pakistani cities after civilians were killed. On Jan. 13, 2006, Predators fired missiles into the village of Damadola in a strike aimed at killing al-Qaeda No. 2 Zawahiri.
Then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz complained his government had received no warning from the U.S. of the attack, which killed as many as 18 civilians and triggered countrywide anti-U.S. protests. Zawahiri soon after released a videotape, taunting the U.S. over the failed attempt to kill him.