America's top military commander in Afghanistan and Iraq has been urged to halt unauthorised air strikes against militants in Pakistan because they are stirring up anti-US sentiment and creating difficulties for the civilian government.
In Islamabad, General David Petraeus, the new head of US Central Command, was told that such strikes – often using missiles fired from pilotless Predator drones – caused public "outrage".
While the US may be targeting militants in the tribal areas believed responsible for cross-border attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan, many Pakistani civilians, including women and children, have been killed. General Petraeus, accompanied by the US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Boucher, met Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari yesterday. Mr Zardari was quoted as telling the general: "Continuing drone attacks on our territory, which result in loss of precious lives and property, are counter-productive and difficult to explain by a democratically elected government. It is creating a credibility gap." In the past three months there have been around 20 such attacks, the most recent over the weekend in North and South Waziristan where up to 32 people were killed.
The warning to General Petraeus, who is likely to also meet the Prime Minister, Yousuf Gilani, and army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, is just the latest public rebuke for the US from Pakistan. But the country's new civilian leadership has been forced to walk a fine line. While wishing to continue to be considered an ally of Washington, the government – embroiled in wide-ranging counter-insurgency operations against militants that have cost the lives of 1,500 Pakistani troops – is in grave danger of being seen as fighting America's war. In public at least, it suits the government to criticise the US's actions.