Pakistan, US enter into war of words on terror
Pakistan and the United States have once again entered into a war of words over whether President Pervez Musharraf is doing enough in the war on terror and suggestions that US forces should be allowed to pursue targets within Pakistan's borders.
American statements and remarks over possible US strikes in the tribal areas, and more recently the assertion that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan, have upset the Musharraf government.
Foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri has commented that any such raids "will be a mistake." Kasuri said that its army was "best suited to hunt for Osama Bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda militants" who Washington believes enjoy safe haven in Pakistan's tribal areas near Afghanistan.
Kasuri made these remarks on a US television station in response to suggestions that the US was contemplating possible attacks within Pakistan. Generally, Pakistani sentiments are against any sort of US intrusion.
Sardar Aseff Ahmad Ali, a former foreign minister, said that such a move would be "disastrous". Talking to the Hindustan Times, Ali said that an American operation within Pakistan would be a major embarrassment for the Musharraf government.
He said that the timing was very wrong given the events of the past week and the storming of the Lal Majid. Aseff contended that there was a wave of anger in Pakistan and any US action would make this much worse.
On the question of the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, there is widespread skepticism over the issue. Most people contacted by HT said that the general perception is the Bin Laden is in Afghanistan. "My guess would be Southern Afghanistan which has pockets of Taliban resistance," said Aseff Ali.
Many analysts also questioned the credibility of the US intelligence reports. "We have seen time and again that US intelligence reports have been inaccurate," said Dr Khalida Ghaus, a professor of international relations.
Ghaus said that one has to question the success of the US policy in Pakistan to fight the war on terror. "The point is not whether Bin Laden is in Pakistan or not but the fact that action based on such reports, which themselves are questionable, have very serious repercussions."
For his part, Foreign Minister Kasuri said in his interview from Lahore: What I don't like is the tone that I am now hearing and that I am now reading in the American media." Many academics have questioned US media reports and some have commented that there seems to be a move to ready the US mind for some action within Pakistan. "This is disturbing for all Pakistanis," commented one academic.
Part of the National Intelligence Estimate made public last week found a "persistent and evolving" threat to the United States from Islamist militant groups, especially Al-Qaeda, which it said had become entrenched in Pakistan's North Waziristan, a tribal region near Afghanistan.
The calls for action in North Waziristan have also been a sore point for the Musharraf government, which has suffered heavy casualties in the war in that region.