The government of Pakistan has agreed to US demands to send its army into the restive border areas with Afghanistan. But it claims it will limit its actions to “special forces” operations involving assassinations of rebel leaders.
The concession came after George Bush harangued the Pakistani prime minister Yusaf Raza Gillani during his recent visit to the US.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “Gillani and his aides got an earful from both the White House and Congress about the need to act far more aggressively in the tribal areas”.
Following the meeting Gillani approved the use of unmanned Predator aircraft to target insurgents in the north of the country.
The US has been operating these drones – which carry a deadly payload of missiles – for several years. But now the killings will have Pakistan’s official approval.
One senior Pakistani official said, “The Americans tell us that they need action now.” At risk is $225 million in US aid to Pakistan.
The latest offer by Pakistan to send troops into the north is deeply unpopular. Gillani won the elections last year on the back of growing unrest over the “war on terror”.
The threat against the north has triggered renewed fighting. Over 130 people were killed in the latest clashes between security forces and rebel tribes.
The spread of the war into northern Pakistan follows another bloody week for Nato and US troops in Afghanistan. Five Nato soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack and a US soldier died a day later.
Afghan aid organisations have revealed that this year has been the bloodiest in the country since the war began.
The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief has warned that fighting has spread to areas that were once considered stable.
“So far this year the number of insurgent attacks, bombings and other violent incidents is up by approximately 50 percent on the same period last year,” the welfare agency reports.
Adding to the instability is the growing deprivation caused by rises in food and fuel prices – and a surge in the number of refugees abandoning the south and east of Afghanistan.
The United Nations estimates that between 10,000 to 15,000 people have been displaced by the latest round of fighting. Many more are believed to be beyond the reach of aid agencies.
Some refugees are settling in growing numbers on the outskirts of the capital Kabul.
They told the International Herald Tribune they were fleeing Nato and US air attacks that usually follow raids by insurgents.
One villager who lost most of his family in an air raid, said, “There were [Nato] armoured vehicles on the hill and they were firing.
“There was a heavy bombardment. They did not differentiate between the guilty and not guilty.”