ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The U.S. commander running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, held talks on Monday with Pakistani leaders who told him to stop U.S. strikes on militants in Pakistani territory.
Petraeus arrived in Pakistan on Sunday, at the beginning of his first foreign tour since taking charge of U.S. Central Command, highlighting U.S. concern about a country seen as crucial to stability in Afghanistan and to defeating al Qaeda.
U.S. analysts say Pakistan is facing a major threat from Islamist militants at a time when the nuclear-armed nation and its new civilian government are engulfed in extraordinarily difficult economic problems.
Petraeus has been hailed as an outstanding military leader for helping pull Iraq back from the brink of civil war with a strategy that brought a "surge" of 30,000 extra U.S. troops.
Both U.S. presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, have said they would put more focus on defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and eradicating al Qaeda from Pakistan's borderlands.
Both candidates have said they would boost U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan from the 33,000 there now.
Petraeus was being accompanied in Pakistan by Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Richard Boucher.
Their visit comes as relations between the United States and Pakistan have been strained by a series of cross-border U.S. strikes, most by missile-firing pilotless drone aircraft, on militant targets in Pakistan.
President Asif Ali Zardari told Petraeus the attacks should stop, Pakistan's state news agency reported.
"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," Zardari was quoted as saying.
"It is creating a credibility gap," he said.
The most pressing problems for Petraeus include rising violence in Afghanistan and Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal lands.
The United States and NATO are losing ground against an escalating Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, despite the presence of 64,000 Western troops, while al Qaeda has regained strength in Pakistan's tribal region.
Apparently, frustration over deteriorating Afghan security has led to more aggressive U.S. action against the sanctuaries in Pakistan with about 15 missile strikes and one ground assault since the beginning of last month.
Pakistan says the strikes are a violation of its sovereignty and undermine efforts to isolate the militants and rally public opinion behind the unpopular campaign against militancy, which many people see as America's war.
The United States has shrugged off Pakistan's complaints saying the attacks are needed to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and kill militants who threaten them.
About 20 people, including militants, were killed in the latest U.S. missile strikes on two violence-plagued border regions, North and South Waziristan, on Friday.
Despite the anger over the cross-border strikes, analysts say Zardari is a staunch U.S. ally who wants good ties.
Earlier, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said Petraeus had been appreciative of Pakistan's efforts in battling militants along the Afghan border.
"They believe in our government because previously there was more rhetoric than action but now there is more action than rhetoric," Mukhtar told Reuters.
"They appreciate that we take it as war against Pakistan. It's our war ... we are fighting for our survival."
(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by David Fox)
6 months ago