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New US leader must stop attacks: Gilani

November 05, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Nov 4: The new US president must halt missile attacks on targets inside Pakistan or risk failure in efforts to end militancy in the country, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned on Tuesday.

He said visiting US Gen David Petraeus “looked convinced” when he warned him the strikes were inflaming anti-American sentiment, but that he got no guarantee they would end.

Mr Gilani’s remarks in an interview with The Associated Press underscore the challenge the next US president faces in shaping a policy to deal with the militant threat in Pakistan and its new civilian leaders.

They also revealed the rising strain the missile strikes have placed on relations between the two nations seven years after the Sept 11 attacks forced them into an uneasy alliance.

“No matter who the president of America will be, if he doesn’t respect the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan ... anti-America sentiments and anti-West sentiment will be there,” the prime minister said.

Over the last two months, the US has launched at least 17 strikes on militant targets in a semi-autonomous tribal belt on Pakistan’s side of the Afghan border.

The strikes — and a highly unusual ground attack by US forces in September — have killed at least 168 people, including some top extremists but also many civilians, according to Pakistani officials.

Mr Gilani at times looked frustrated as he said the attacks were “uniting the militants with the tribes. How can you fight a war without the support of the people?” he said.

He said the US should cooperate with his country’s military, sharing intelligence, to allow Pakistan to go after the targets itself.

“Either they should trust us and they should work with us, otherwise, I think it’s a futile exercise,” he said.

He also said the missile strikes served as a distraction to Pakistan’s own military operations against insurgents in its border regions. The army is in the midst of two major anti-insurgent operations in the northwest.

“Their strategy is not coinciding with our strategy,” Mr Gilani said. “Our strategy is to take one area at one time.”

Mr Gilani expressed hope that after the sessions with Gen Petraeus and others in the US entourage that the missile strikes would end. “I think they’ll stop it,” he said. “They didn’t say no.”—AP