U.S. Strikes Strain Relations With Pakistan

The U.S. has launched a series of air strikes in Pakistan, aimed pressuring militants suspected of running anti-U.S. raids into Afghanistan. But this past week, the Pakistani government lodged a formal complaint and demanded a halt to the strikes. Journalist Ahmed Rashid in Lahore, Pakistan, tells host Liane Hansen how the U.S. could respond.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Extremist groups on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan are suspected of running anti-U.S. raids into Afghanistan. In response, the U.S. has launched a series of air strikes into Pakistan aimed at putting pressure on these militants. But this past week, the Pakistani government lodged a formal complaint and told the American ambassador to bring the U.S. strikes to a halt. To try and explain what's going on, we're joined on the line by journalist Ahmed Rashid. He's in Lahore, Pakistan. Welcome back to the program.

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Pakistani Journalist and Author): Thank you.

HANSEN: There was a strong warning to bring the strikes to a halt, and yet another strike is suspected of taking place. So, what does this mean in terms of America's response to the Pakistani government's request?

Mr. RASHID: Well, there's been something like 18 American drone attacks inside Pakistan on Taliban and al-Qaeda targets during September and October. I think behind the scenes there has been an understanding that the Americans will be allowed to conduct drone attacks, but it will not be allowed to launch ground attacks. Now, I think the calling in of the U.S. ambassador, I think this is part of a public relations move by the Pakistanis to appease public opinion here. So I think the military accepts the fact that it cannot stop the Americans from bombing the tribal areas.

HANSEN: But have these strikes changed public opinion of the United States in Pakistan?

Mr. RASHID: Well, certainly there's an enormous amount of anger in the tribal areas because along with these targeted killings of Taliban and al-Qaeda, obviously civilians are also being killed. The rest of the country doesn't seem to be too perturbed by these missile strikes, largely because people have become now very scared by the suicide attacks that the Taliban are launching inside Pakistan itself.

HANSEN: Can the United States deal a little bit better with the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I think the situation is improving because we've seen the Pakistanis mount now this major offensive in the tribal agency of Bajor which has been going on for nearly three months now. One of the effects of that has been that fewer and fewer militants are crossing over from Pakistan into Afghanistan to fight the Americans. Rather they are actually staying in Pakistan to fight the Pakistan army.

HANSEN: Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid. His most recent book is "Descent Into Chaos." And he joined us by phone from Lahore, Pakistan. Thank you very much.

Mr. RASHID: Thanks very much indeed.

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