Pakistan’s ‘New Rage Against America’ Casts Doubt on Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategy

By Patrick Goodenough | October 8, 2010 | 5:12 AM EDT

NATO fuel tankers burn near Peshawar on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010 after militants torched a dozen trucks in the latest attack against supply convoys since Pakistan shut a key border crossing the prior week. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

( - Three months ahead of the Obama administration’s planned evaluation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy it launched last December, an increasingly strained and complex Washington-Islamabad relationship is threatening to throw the policy into disarray.

The December 2010 review is expected to assess whether President Obama can abide by his timetable of starting to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan next July.

Delivering his latest “Af-Pak” report to the U.S. Congress last week, the president said the policy was on track and that he did “not believe further adjustments are required at this time.”

In Pakistan, however, an unpopular government is grappling with public and establishment anger over a rash of deadly terrorist attacks in its cities, a drastically stepped-up U.S. drone campaign along the border with Afghanistan, and a fatal Sept. 30 cross-border helicopter strike.

Despite several U.S. and NATO apologies for the strike, which killed two Pakistani soldiers, the government has yet to open a border crossing vital for NATO supply trucks. On Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit would only say a decision on the matter would come “in due course.”

Pakistanis protest the 86-year prison sentence handed down to Aafia Siddiqui by a U.S. court on Sept. 23, 2010. (AP Photo)

Adding to the tensions are the recent prison sentence handed down by a U.S. court to a Pakistani scientist found guilty of trying to kill U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan – and viewed in Pakistan as a heroic figure and victim of U.S. injustice – as well as persistent reports about ongoing collusion between elements in Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence agency and terror groups including the Afghan Taliban.

The head of one of the country’s main Islamist political parties called Thursday for a “drastic change” in Pakistan’s foreign policy.

The government must inform the U.S. that America’s enemies are not Pakistan’s enemies, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hasan told a press conference in Karachi.

He also called for NATO supply lines into Afghanistan to be blocked permanently.

A leading Pakistani analyst says the anger goes beyond the militant element.

“The new rage against America is not restricted to the militants and their backers within the establishment,” Imtiaz Gul, head of Pakistan’s independent Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), wrote Thursday. “From right to left, almost every Pakistani is up in arms against the mounting pressure from Washington.”

According to figures kept by the Long War Journal Web site, as of Thursday there had been 81 missile strikes launched from unmanned drones in Pakistan’s north-west since the beginning of 2010.

By comparison, 53 strikes were recorded in 2009, 35 in 2008, and only 10 in total over the four years prior to that.

One strike earlier this week has been linked to the recently uncovered plot to attack tourist targets in Europe, which prompted the U.S. government to issue a travel alert to citizens.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Basit urged the U.S. government to “revisit” the policy, describing the drone attacks as “counter-productive” and a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

The vast majority of drone strikes this year have taken place in the tribal belt’s North Waziristan agency, a haven for terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda, other jihadist groups, and the Afghan Taliban’s notorious Haqqani faction, which is actively fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army has long resisted U.S. urging to take its anti-militant offensive into North Waziristan, a state of affairs that was noted in the White House report to Congress.

“In this quarter’s reporting period [up to June 30], the Pakistan military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan,” it said. “This is as much a political choice as it is a reflection of an under-resourced military prioritizing its targets.”

Gul of the CRSS attributed this reluctance to concerns that complying with the U.S. would “create more enemies for Pakistan’s weak and unpopular government in the border regions.”

“Any direct escalation by Pakistan in North Waziristan would not only antagonize dozens of wily tribes in the border region but could also trigger a retaliation among Pakistan’s militant networks, who have shown a growing willingness to turn their wrath on civilians,” he said. “It is not unlikely that they will activate their cells to stage a new string of suicide attacks in major cities.”

Indeed, such attacks already are regular occurrences. A double suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Karachi on Thursday evening killed up to 14 people in a city where terror violence has cost more than 430 lives since the beginning of 2010.

According to data collected by the New Delhi-based South Asia Terrorism Portal, more than 1,400 civilians have been killed in terrorist violence across Pakistan this year, 216 in September alone.

Heritage Foundation scholar Lisa Curtis said this week that U.S. dependence on NATO supply routes through Pakistan “provides Islamabad leverage to resist U.S. pressure to shut down Taliban sanctuaries and to crack down more forcefully on terrorist networks, like the Haqqani network, that attack coalition forces across the border and threaten the overall mission in Afghanistan.”

But in an editorial Friday, the Lahore-based Daily Times urged the government not to overestimate its clout.

“It would be foolish to presume that we have pushed the U.S. into a corner. There are alternate routes NATO can use for its supplies if push comes to shove,” it said.

“The U.S. needs a cooperative ally, one that will work in coordination with NATO forces. It does not need an ally that provides safe havens to the very forces it is battling in Afghanistan.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow