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Naveen Naqvi

Naveen Naqvi

Posted: August 21, 2009 06:34 PM

Baitullah Mehsud's Death Doesn't Change Pakistan's Perception Of The US


Richard Holbrooke was in Pakistan for the second time this month, and while he was on his way to Kabul for the presidential elections, the visit was by no means a mere pit stop. The United States Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan has been the topic of a great deal of discussion since Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone missile strike early this month. The repercussions of the conquest are manifold.

The Pakistan military successfully launched an offensive against militants in Swat but it did not help that the leadership was still at large. Holbrooke had lauded the army's performance in securing parts of Swat on his previous visit, but at the same time cautioned that with top leaders like Maulana Fazlullah still at large "there was still a long way to go." It was then that he added, "I think Baitullah Mehsud is one of the most dangerous and odious people in the entire region, and the United States paid insufficient attention to him until very recently."

He made attempts to convince the people that the Americans were working with Pakistan rather than for themselves through Pakistan.

The elimination of Mehsud sparked off a debate in Pakistani television news on how the government was viewing the drone attacks. Previously condemned by the government for being a violation of the state's sovereignty and by the people on account of collateral damage, the controversial strikes were being reevaluated. In a heated debate on Dawn News, one of President Asif Ali Zardari's advisers, Farahnaz Ispahani stated, "If a drone strike has killed Baitullah Mehsud, then I cannot condemn it."

But blogger Sana Saleem argued that, "The recent killing of Baitullah Mehsud by a US-led drone attack still does not seem to work in favor of the drone attacks." She cites a survey commissioned by Al Jazeera and conducted by Gallup Pakistan, which estimates that an astounding 59 percent of the population sees the United States as the greatest threat to Pakistan. Much of the unpopularity is based on to the drone attacks. By contrast, only 11 percent identified the Taliban, who are responsible for scores of deaths by suicide bombings, as the problem and 18 percent viewed India, the projected archenemy, as the biggest danger to national security.

However, former ambassador, Zafar Hilaly said that Pakistani public opinion was mercurial. He said, "I think these polls are in some ways mischievous, frankly. States should not rely on these surveys to take decisions."

While that may be so, Sana Saleem suggested, "[...] the double game being played by the Pakistani's authorities is leading to confused [public] opinion."

A private news channel quoted the former chief of army staff, retired General Mirza Aslam Beg as saying that the United States is operating unmanned predator drones from Tarbela in Pakistan. Yet, the elected leaders and the military continue to condemn the attack.

When Holbrooke announced that since this trip wasn't about Afghanistan-Pakistan relations , he could give more time to issues that affect ordinary Pakistanis such as the energy crisis,

Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, an Islamabad based security analyst, implied that it suggested self-interest. He said, "The US has to counter Iran's influence created by the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline."

Hence proving America's own self interest in Pakistan one more time.

This is part of HuffPost's Spotlight On Pakistan. Eyes & Ears and HuffPost World are building a network of people living in Pakistan who can help us understand what is happening there. These individuals will send us reports -- either snippets of information or full-length stories -- about how the political crisis affects life in Pakistan. This is an opportunity to have a continued conversation with Americans about what's happening in your country. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

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