In a rude shock to Pakistanis, the US has escalated military operations inside Pakistan with a missile attack on a house in Janikhel, Bannu district, 70 kilimeters from the border tribal region. At least four persons were reported killed and three others injured as a result of the attack.
Pakistani security sources claimed that one Arab, two Turkmen and a local militant were killed in the pre-dawn attack. However, the MPA hailing from Janikhel, Adnan Wazir denied this assertion and said: "No one among those killed in the attack was a foreigner nor were they terrorists. Innocent locals were killed in the attack, which is a violation of the borders of the country."
US and Pakistani sources always claim killing foreign militants in such attacks but never produced any evidence because the militants remove their casualties from the scene immediately. In the Bannu attack it was claimed: "Soon after the missile strike, militants sheltering in the region rushed to the site whereas they recovered the bodies and the injured from the debris. Later they shifted the bodies of three foreigners to another area."
Wednesday's strike in Bannu was unusual because it hit much further inside Pakistani territory. Previous drone attacks have been in the strip of territory along the Afghan border known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the central government has limited writ.
Tellingly, the Bannu missile attack came as Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was in Brussels urging the top military officers of Nato to halt unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) incursions into Pakistani territory. Chairman of the military committee of Nato Admiral Giampaolo Di Paolo had invited the Pakistan Army chief to address the committee.
Wednesday's missile attack was the 38th since the pro-Washington government was installed in Islamabad through February 2008 election. There have been at least 16 drone raids since August this year. More than 300 civilians have been killed in these attacks, according to media reports.
Not surprisingly, Pakistan government called the US ambassador in Islamabad to protest against the latest US missile attack. But for many Pakistanis, it was just an eye-wash because they believe that the incumbent government is colluding with the US administration and such protests are just for local consumption. It is a common knowledge that the present "democratic government" of President Zardari came into power after his assassinated wife Benazir accepted a US brokered a deal with General Musharraf - a deal which ensured interalia, the withdrawal of all corruption court cases pending against Benazir, Zardari and many other (now ruling) Pakistan Peoples Party political leaders and functionaries.
There can be hardly two opinions on the fact that every US attack on Pakistani territory is fomenting more anti-US sentiments among the masses and further erodes "democratic government's" popularity. If elections are held today the present government that was elected in February this year on the sympathy vote after the assassination of Banazir Bhutto would be routed.
There has been bitter criticism of the government by opposition political parties as well as other groups. In Peshawar, the South Students Organization (SSO) and Islami Jamait Tulba (IJT) staged protest demonstrations against the US attacks. The protesters burnt an American flag.
A spokesman for North Waziristan militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur has warned that his men would launch suicide attacks on foreigners and government targets across the country unless the raids stop. "The Pakistani government is clearly involved in these attacks by American spy planes so we will target government interests as well as foreigners," Hafiz's spokesman, Ahmedullah Ahmedi told The Associated Press.
As anti-US sentiment swept, two men accused of spying for the United States were killed this week by suspected militants in North Waziristan. Bodies of two unidentified men were found on Friday at Shewa area near a school. Their hands were tied and were shot dead from close range. A note in the native Pashto language was found near the bodies of the slain men, said that they were spying for the United States and Afghanistan on local Taliban. The note warned that anyone spying for the US or Afghanistan would face the same situation.
Militants are blamed for killing people suspected of spying for the US, Afghan or Pakistani authorities in the tribal region. Hundreds of tribal elders, Afghan refugees and clerics have been killed in such attacks in the region in recent years. Last Friday a tribal leader leading an anti-Taliban group was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Bajor tribal Agency.
Ironically on Wednesday, Major Genenral (retd) Ameer Faisal Alvi, who commanded the Special Services Group (SSG) during the first major assault on militants in South Waziristan in 2004, was assassinated by gunmen near his home in Islamabad's twin city of Rawalpindi. His assassination is seen a revenge for the operation in the tribal areas where the officer commanded his SSG unit till 2006.
As the security situation in Pakistan deteriorates alarmingly in the wake of unpopular military operations in FATA, the US missile attack deep inside Pakistani territory sends a clear warning that the US could attack any place in Pakistan on the claim of "actionable intelligence" about the presence of militants linked to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. President-elect Barak Obama is on recording saying that his administration would attack targets in Pakistan on "actionable intelligence." And the Bannu attack was probably on the alleged "actionable intelligence" that killed at least four innocent civilians.
Postscript: As I was writing this piece, another US missile attack on Saturday, November 22, killed five people, including three children, in North Waziristan.