U.S. missile strikes on Pakistan : more of the same under Obama or worse to come?

January 26, 2009

The first U.S. missiles have struck Pakistan since U.S. President Barack Obama  took office, dispelling any possibility that he might relent on these raids that have so angered Pakistanis, many of whom think it only engenders reprisal attacks from militants on their cities.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari protested to the U.S. ambassador over Friday’s twin raids in South and North Waziristan and  newspaper editorialists and commentators are worried this is just a foretaste of things to come. The strikes, the first since Jan 2, have led the Dawn newspaper to recall Obama’s statements during the presidential camapaign when he repeatedly said he would “take out high value terrorist targets” inside Pakistan if it was unable or unwilling to do so.

“Three days into Obama’s presidency, we have the first evidence of how his promise will translate into action. Drone attacks in South and North Waziristan have killed at least 14 people, including what the media now routinely refers to as ‘foreign militants’, ” the newspaper said.

Early signs from Washington suggest that it will continue military action on Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), considered to be place where al Qaeda has reconstituted itself, the newspaper said.  At the same time it will demand that Pakistan do more against the militants, tying aid to the armed forces with achieving concrete results.

The News wrote that the ‘rather optimistic assurance” given by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani earlier on that the Predator drone attacks would stop once Obama took charge had been dashed. And it added that it wasn’t clear why or how Gilani made such a statement when he was in no position to issue a guarantee on behalf of the Americans.

The missile attacks, and there have been around 30 over the past year, have caused both physical and psychological damage in Pakistan, it said. But what is the way out? Islamabad must somehow persuade the Americans that fighting the militants on its soil was something best left to Pakistani forces. ”The U.S. decision-makers need to be persuaded of the damage caused by the drone attacks and how they contribute to the growth of militancy,” it said.

Juan Cole writing in Salon.com said that for Obama to bomb Pakistan territory in his very first week in office after promising a civilian-friendly policy focused on human development was ominous.

“This resort to violence from the skies even before Obama had initiated discussions with Islamabad is a bad sign. It is not clear if Obama really believes that the fractious tribes of the Pakistani northwest can be subdued with some airstrikes and if he really believes that U.S. security depends on what happens in Waziristan,” Cole writes in the piece headlined “Obama’s Vietnam?”

 ”If he thinks the drone attacks on FATA are a painless way to signal to the world that he is no wimp, he may find, as Lyndon Johnson did, that such military operations take on a momentum of their own, and produce popular discontents that can prove deadly to the military mission.”

[Photos of a protest in Karachi against U.S. missile strikes, U.S.President Barack Obama and Richard Holbrooke, envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and coffins of a victims of a missile attack in northwest Pakistan]

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