Angry protesters took to the streets today as a US airstrike early this morning near Miramshah reinforced anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. The strike, which Pakistan’s military confirmed occurred at 5:30 AM this morning, hit a residence and a former government school in a village in North Waziristan, not far from the Afghanistan border. The strike killed at least 14 people and injured 12 others.
Residents said the shuttered school had been used by militants, but the home belonged to a local tribesman with seemingly no connection to any militant groups. The owner of the home was among those killed, along with at least six women and children. This was the second US drone strike around Miramshah this week. On Monday, US drones attacked a religious school in the same area founded by a veteran mujahideen commander, killing at least 23.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raza Gilani condemned the latest attack, and promised to raise the issue with the United States. He hoped he could convince the US “to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan,” just days after Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani declared that the military would no longer allow foreign forces to operate inside the country. Gilani, however, conceded that there were limits to what the government could do. “We can take up the matter of unilateral strikes in Pakistan at diplomatic level, but cannot wage war,” he told reporters.
Tensions between the United States and Pakistan have risen in recent days over the increase in American attacks, and a reported secret directive signed by President Bush in July, which came entirely without approval from either Pakistan’s military or civilian government. The directive came to light after US ground troops attacked a village in South Waziristan last week, killing 20 civilians.
Pakistan’s coalition government is struggling to balance its commitment to “stand with the United States” in its terror war with its increasing dependence on the support of tribal area legislators. It must also contend with rising militancy in the tribal areas and the very real possibility that Wazir tribesmen will abandon a long standing peace deal, which they threatened to do yesterday if the government doesn’t put a stop to American attacks.
An MP from Pakistan’s opposition PML-N called for a special meeting of parliament to debate a response. He suggested that “Pakistan can consider pulling out completely from this war on terror”. Meanwhile, retired Pakistani General Hamid Gul cautioned “instead of solving the problem it has only exacerbated it. If those people in those areas were not part of the Taliban forces before these strikes they will be now”.