The United States should give Pakistan's new government time to work out its strategy on terrorism, newspapers said on Thursday, with some criticising a visit this week by two US envoys to sound out civilian leaders.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher arrived on Tuesday, shortly before Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was sworn in to lead a government set on re-thinking terrorism policy.
Pakistan has been a staunch US ally since President Pervez Musharraf threw his support behind the US-led war on terrorism after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States.
But former army chief Musharraf's power is waning, especially after his allies were soundly defeated in Feb 18 parliamentary elections.
Leaders of a new coalition government, led by the parties of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have spoken of the need for talks with militants based in remote mountains on the Afghan border.
That has apparently rung alarm bells in Washington and raised the prospect of Pakistani support ebbing.
The Dawn newspaper said the US officials' trip had been made in "indecent haste" and "was not in keeping with diplomatic propriety" given that voters had rejected extremism and no one was suggesting a sudden reversal of policy on terrorism.
"It is time Washington gave time to the new government to settle down," Dawn said in an editorial.
Gilani, a senior official of Bhutto's party, held talks with the two US officials on Wednesday and assured them of Pakistan's resolve to tackle terrorism.
But Gilani has also called for a "comprehensive approach" on terror involving political means and economic help for tribal regions on the Afghan border, where militants have found refuge and Osama bin Laden is believed to be based.
He also said parliament would now be making the decisions.
The Washington Post said on Thursday the United States had escalated air strikes against Al- Qaeda fighters in Pakistan's tribal areas to inflict as much damage as it could now because Islamabad's support may slip.
Over the past two months, US-controlled Predator aircraft had struck three sites used by Al- Qaeda operatives, killing about 45 Arab, Afghan and other foreign fighters, it said.
But reflecting widespread Pakistani anger over such attacks, the News newspaper said the US-directed polices of the past seven years had only led to an increase in militancy.
"The White House and its team must now restrain themselves in further meddling in Pakistan's affairs. It's new leaders must be allowed to devise their own strategies," the News said
The Daily Times said the US officials' visit had incited rage in the media as it was perceived as a bid to shore up Musharraf and prevent changes in policy in line with the mandate of the people.
Negroponte was due to hold a news conference in Karachi later on Thursday before his departure. Boucher was remaining in Pakistan for a couple more days, Dawn said.