Admiral Michael Mullen made a surprise visit to Pakistan yesterday. and according to the US Embassy he “reiterated the US commitment to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty“. Just hours later, US drones fired four missiles into South Waziristan, killing at least seven and injuring three others.

At the same time, speaking at the Air Force Association’s annual conference, CIA Director Michael Hayden suggested that his agency is trying to “tickle” militant groups with missile strikes in an attempt to provoke a reaction. He said there was much his agency could learn from the way in which the groups respond.

The CIA is responsible for many of the US air strikes launched in the Pakistani tribal areas, which have been increasing in recent days. Two US strikes last week hit the neighboring Pakistani Agency of North Waziristan, killing 14 people and 23 people, respectively.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raza Gilani has reportedly condemned the latest air strike. Both Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari have pressed for an end to US cross-border raids and air strikes, insisting that they are harming the credibility of Pakistan’s tenuous coalition government.

It is unclear what if any reaction all this “tickling” has provoked from militant groups, but there are plenty of other more visible reactions to examine. Besides the negative comments from the ruling coalition, Pakistan’s military has demanded an end to the US attacks, and reportedly opened fire on US helicopters attempting to cross the border earlier this week. Major opposition figures have called for Pakistan to pull out of America’s war on terror entirely, and supply lines through Pakistan for NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan were briefly severed.

Civilians living in the tribal area have reacted to the attacks as well with an increasing number of anti-US protests, and an important tribal faction in South Waziristan has threatened to abandon its long-standing peace deal with the Pakistani government if the government does not do something to halt US attacks.

What the CIA Director hopes to learn from terrorist reactions is unclear. What the United States can learn from the rest of Pakistan’s reaction to the attacks is not nearly so elusive however. Neither Pakistan’s populace nor its polity is responding to the CIA’s “tickles” with much patience, and with US strikes continuing seemingly unabated over these objections, it appears to be only a question of which breaks first: President Zardari’s promise to “stand with the United States,” or his government’s hold on power.

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