Senior U.S. officials are pushing to expand CIA drone strikes beyond Pakistan’s tribal region and into a major city in an attempt to pressure the Pakistani government to pursue Taliban leaders based in Quetta.
The proposal has opened a contentious new front in the clandestine war. The prospect of Predator aircraft strikes in Quetta, a sprawling city, signals a new U.S. resolve to decapitate the Taliban. But it also risks rupturing Washington’s relationship with Islamabad.
The concern has created tension among Obama administration officials over whether unmanned aircraft strikes in a city of 850,000 are a realistic option. Proponents, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta — or at least threatening to do so — is crucial to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.
“If we don’t do this — at least have a real discussion of it — Pakistan might not think we are serious,” said a senior U.S. official involved in war planning. “What the Pakistanis have to do is tell the Taliban that there is too much pressure from the U.S.; we can’t allow you to have sanctuary inside Pakistan anymore.”
But others, including high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials, have been more skeptical of employing drone attacks in a place that Pakistanis see as part of their country’s core. Pakistani officials have warned that the fallout would be severe.
“We are not a banana republic,” said a senior Pakistani official involved in discussions of security issues with the Obama administration. If the United States follows through, the official said, “this might be the end of the road.” [continued…]
Demands by the United States for Pakistan to crack down on the strongest Taliban warrior in Afghanistan, Siraj Haqqani, whose fighters pose the biggest threat to American forces, have been rebuffed by the Pakistani military, according to Pakistani military officials and diplomats.
The Obama administration wants Pakistan to turn on Mr. Haqqani, a longtime asset of Pakistan’s spy agency who uses the tribal area of North Waziristan as his sanctuary. But, the officials said, Pakistan views the entreaties as contrary to its interests in Afghanistan beyond the timetable of President Obama’s surge, which envisions drawing down American forces beginning in mid-2011.
The demands, first made by senior American officials before President Obama’s Afghanistan speech and repeated many times since, were renewed in a written demarche delivered in recent days by the United States Embassy to the head of the Pakistani military, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, according to American officials. Gen. David Petraeus followed up on Monday during a visit to Islamabad.
The demands have been accompanied by strong suggestions that if the Pakistanis cannot take care of the problem, including dismantling the Taliban leadership based in Quetta, Pakistan, then the Americans will by resorting to broader and more frequent drone strikes in Pakistan.
But the Pakistanis have greeted the refrain with official public silence and private anger, illustrating the widening gulf between the allies over the Afghan war.
Former Pakistani military officers voice irritation with the American insistence daily on television, part of a mounting grievance in Pakistan that the alliance with the United States is too costly to bear.
“It is really beginning to irk and anger us,” said a security official familiar with the deliberations at the senior levels of the Pakistani leadership.
The core reason for Pakistan’s imperviousness is its scant faith in the Obama surge, and what Pakistan sees as the need to position itself for a major regional realignment in Afghanistan once American forces begin to leave. [continued…]