General David Petraeus, the new head of U.S. Central Command [CENTCOM] and former top U.S. commander in Iraq, visited Pakistan for the first time on Monday. Most media headlines blared, “Pakistan Warns U.S. Commander against Missile Strikes.” CNN reported in its coverage,
Petraeus’ trip signals Pakistan’s crucial role in the fight against terrorism, particularly the escalating war in neighboring Afghanistan. But it also comes amid tensions over suspected American missile strikes in Pakistan — a U.S. ally threatened with financial ruin, torn by an Islamic insurgency and armed with nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, reportedly told the U.S. commander that launching further missile strikes in the country’s troubled tribal areas could increase tensions between the two countries. The Washington Post cited Mukhtar, who also called “for more coordination between the U.S. and Pakistani militaries,” and said the recent increase in U.S.-led cross-border strikes had created “bad blood” between the two allies. In a statement released Monday, the defense ministry asserted that frequent attacks inside Pakistan by U.S. Predator drones “could generate anti-American sentiments” and “create outrage and uproar” among Pakistanis, a trend we have already seen occur. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari further echoed that such strikes are detrimental to the “war on terror,” adding, “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…It is creating a credibility gap.”
Although the NY Times reported that there had been no public comment or appearances by Petraeus in the aftermath of such reports, CNN later released an interview with the general. Asked by CNN’s Raza Shah whether he heard any criticism of these U.S. attacks, General Petraeus said he had, noting, “In fact, we got certain messages with each of those we talked today and some of those were very clear and we have to take those on board…This is a partnership, a cooperative endeavor designed to achieve mutual goals and mutual interests and so we have to clearly accept that.” He added, “One of the clear messages that I got today was the recognition by Pakistan’s leaders [of] the existential threat as they see it from extremists who are in those areas…They are very serious about dealing with that threat.”
According to BBC News, “Gen. Petraeus has already commissioned a major review of U.S. strategy in the region, which is expected to emphasize the need for a wider regional solution and more outreach to the Taliban.” The commander was responsible for the oft-cited “surge” of U.S. troops in Iraq, and has been widely credited for the recent security improvements seen in the war-torn nation. It will be significant to see whether the U.S. will continue to advocate a similar strategy for Pakistan, [i.e., the Anbar Awakening, of empowering and arming tribes] as reports have recently indicated. [Image from the Associated Press]