WASHINGTON: Interviewed by a major American newspaper just before this week’s meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and President Barack Obama, common people on the streets of Pakistan had a single message for the U.S. leader: stop drone attacks. Although many Pakistanis had welcomed the election of President Obama as an opportunity for some fresh thinking about their troubled region, The Los Angeles Times reported, the honeymoon hasn’t lasted long.
Pakistanis from different walks of life say they’d give the American leader an earful if they were at the White House table, correspondent Mark Magnier wrote from Islamabad. One of the biggest complaints: the deadly drones, the hugely unpopular unmanned aircraft involved in spying and firing on suspected “high value” militants on Pakistani soil. Islamabad sees them as violation of its territory.“These drones are very bad,” Ashraf Bhatti, an apparel merchant, was quoted as saying in the Anjuman bazaar in Lahore. “What would America think if someone started shooting rockets and killing people in their land?”
The anger and resentment remain so great, some here argue, that America loses far more in goodwill than it gains in assassinated militants. “It just hits everyday people like us,” said Mohammed Yasin, a retired shopkeeper. Some Pakistanis say they would be less distrustful of U.S. motives and objectives if Washington put a quick end to its “Af-Pak” terminology, strategy and mind-set, some told the The Times correspondent.
Besides Pakistanis, a number of lawmakers on the Hill have also questioned the use of the term Af-Pak, calling it an affront to the sense of sovereignty of the two nations. The American approach is meant to combine policy toward the two countries into a single cohesive plan, the dispatch pointed out. But people here say that while the region may look like one big mess from afar, there’s a world of difference between themselves and their neighbour to the west.
Pakistan, they say, is a nation with a functioning government, respected universities, a longstanding legal tradition and a vibrant arts tradition. Afghanistan is a land without much in the way of law, government or other conventional definitions of a nation, some contend.
“The majority of Pakistanis really don’t want to be put in the same category,” said Abid Sulehri, head of Islamabad’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute. “It’s very bad if they continue to use that term.”
David Kilcullen, a key adviser to the US Central Commander Gen David Petraeus told a Congressional committee last week that the predator strikes are creating more extremists than they are taking out the bad guys. He pointed out the drone attacks have taken out some al-Qaeda terrorists but they have killed 700 Pakistanis.
Pakistan and the United States have been cooperating closely since 9/11 in fighting al-Qaeda militants who crossed into Pakistani tribal areas when the U.S. swept the Taliban out of Kabul. The U.S. is a major economic and trade partner of Pakistan but has angered Islamabad with a series of drone attacks in its tribal areas. The Pakistani side is expected to raise the issue at Wednesday’s talks.-APP