ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The furor intensified yesterday over
Washington's decision to pursue Islamic militant targets inside
Pakistan, with opposition lawmakers threatening the country could pull
out of the war on terror if the US refuses to respect its borders.
About 100 protesters burned American flags after the latest missile
attack left at least 12 people dead in the North Waziristan region of
the troubled northwest. Residents said they heard the sound of
propeller-driven US Predator drones circling overhead before the
President Bush secretly approved more aggressive cross-border
operations in July, current and former American officials have told the
Since Aug. 13, there have been at least seven reported missile
strikes as well as a raid by helicopter-borne US commandos that
Pakistani officials claim killed 15 civilians in tribally governed
territory where the government has little control. The frontier region
is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and his deputy,
Pakistan's government and military have issued stiff protests to
Washington over the recent rash of cross-border strikes, although the
criticism appeared to be mostly rhetoric aimed at soothing domestic
anger, given that Pakistan has few options for stronger action.
Domestic media have criticized the government for not reacting more
strongly, even suggesting the public criticism is just lip service and
that a secret deal has been reached with Pakistan's leadership allowing
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, has denied
that and vowed to protect the country's sovereignty "at all cost."
Leaders, including new President Asif Ali Zardari, have reiterated
their commitment to fighting violent Islamic extremism and have aired
no threats to withdraw their cooperation.
However, they are sensitive to public opinion in Pakistan, which is hostile to US policy in the region.
Agitation on the issue by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who
heads the main opposition party and has a large popular following,
could make it hard for Islamabad to maintain the close alliance with
Washington forged by Zardari's predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.
"We need at this time to make it clear to foreign countries that
Pakistan will not tolerate such actions," said Ahsan Iqbal, a lawmaker
in Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party. "If it continues, then
Pakistan can consider pulling out completely from this war on terror."
Iqbal and another party leader called for an urgent parliament session to debate how Pakistan can respond.
"The parliament must be convened on a one-point agenda, because the
nation is under a threat of war," said lawmaker Chaudhry Nisar Ali
Khan. "Irrespective of where the threat is, every inch of this country
is sovereign. Every inch of this country is sacred."
Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said Pakistan's armed forces
were "ready to meet any such eventuality if this is repeated" and
evoked Pakistan's war against India in 1965.
Despite the strong language, parliament has few options beyond
issuing a condemnation of cross-border raids and reiterating the
Realistically, there's not much Pakistan can do to stop the United
States from mounting cross-border attacks, short of shooting down
helicopters carrying allied forces. And breaking off relations would
mean an end to billions of dollars in US aid at a time when Pakistan's
economy badly needs foreign assistance.
Most analysts doubt Pakistan is ready to reverse Musharraf's
decision in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to stand with Washington.
Even Musharraf raised the specter of pulling out of the war on terror.