Fri, Mar 27, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Washington mulling more drone attacks on Pakistan

AGENCIES , WASHINGTON, QUETTA AND ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN

Washington is planning new drone attacks on militant targets in Pakistan as part of its overall review of military strategy there and in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

US and Pakistani intelligence officials are composing a “fresh list of terrorist targets for Predator drone strikes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” the newspaper said, citing officials involved.

However, cooperation between the two allies is complicated by the belief held by US officials that operatives within Pakistan’s top intelligence agency are “directly supporting the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan, even as the US targets those groups,” the report said.

In particular, Washington is reviewing its drone program, which the administration views as “a success” and is not expected to be cut, and is seeking to clarify under what conditions drone attacks should be used. Details of the administration’s broader reassessment of military strategy in the region could be released as early as today.

Meanwhile, an expansion of the US’ secret war in Pakistan to Baluchistan Province would justify jihad and see many more young men rally to fight foreign forces in Afghanistan, a radical cleric said.

The New York Times reported last week that the US is considering expanding its covert war to Baluchistan, on the border of southern Afghanistan.

So far, missile strikes by pilotless CIA-operated drones, which Pakistan objects to, have been limited to ethnic Pashtun tribal areas to the north of Baluchistan, mostly in the North and South Waziristan.

“America is trying to scare us but it won’t work. Rather it will be a justification,” Noor Muhammad, a well-known radical cleric who runs a madrasah, or religious school, in Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital, said of possible US strikes.

“America is foolish because it will only force more people here to stand up against it,” he said.

Sitting in a room his school complex, the 60-year-old gray-bearded Mohammed denied any policy of sending young men from his school to fight Western forces in Afghanistan. But he said it was the duty of every Muslim to do that.

Major General Salim Nawaz, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Baluchistan, said drone strikes in Baluchistan would merely stir up militancy.

“That would be music to the Taliban, music to their ears,” said Nawaz at his headquarters in the city center.

He said there were no Taliban safe havens in the province and none of its more than 1,000 madrasah supported the Taliban.

“There’s been talk that Mullah Omar is the ‘mayor of Quetta,’ there’s been talk of the Taliban shura [leadership council], but actually there’s nothing on the ground,” he said.

Nawaz said the US should try to engage moderate Taliban: “They need to demotivate these so-called terrorists. Some space needs to be given to the Taliban. Some confidence-building needs to be done.”

In other developments, senior Pakistani officials denied yesterday there had been a suspected US missile strike in North Waziristan, which was said to have killed four militants.

Local officials has said earlier a suspected US pilot-less plane had fired two missiles, which killed four people.

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