U.S. ‘threat’ of military action unites Pakistan

ISLAMABAD — U.S. accusations that Pakistan is supporting Afghan insurgents have triggered a nationalist backlash and whipped up media fears of a U.S. invasion, drowning out any discussion about the army’s long use of jihadi groups as deadly proxies in the region.

The reaction shows the problem facing the United States as it presses Pakistan for action: Strong statements in Washington provoke a negative public response that makes it more difficult for the army to act against the militants — even if it decided it is in the country’s interest to do so.

Pakistan’s mostly conservative populace is deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions a decade after Washington forged an alliance with Islamabad.

Many people here believe the U.S. wants to break up Pakistan and take its arsenal of nuclear weapons, and America is very unpopular throughout the country.

By contrast, Pakistanis lack unity against Islamic militants. Politicians and media commentators are often ambiguous in their criticism of the Pakistani Taliban, despite its near-weekly bombings in Pakistan in the past four years.

One small private television channel has aired an advertisement that features images of Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta along with scenes of the Pakistani army fighting and raising the country’s flag.

Each time the Americans appear, a shrill voice sings: “Enemies, you have challenged a nation which has a growing knowledge of the Koran and the support from Allah. Our task in this world is to eliminate the name of the killers.”

Adm. Mullen’s comments on Capitol Hill last week set off the storm.

He said the Haqqani Network, the most deadly and organized force fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the strongest public statement yet by U.S. officials on Pakistan’s long-suspected duplicity.

He and other U.S. officials suggested that the U.S. would use any means necessary to defend itself.

That raised speculation here that the U.S. might deploy troops in Pakistan’s North Waziristan territory, the Afghan border region where the Haqqanis are based.

Most analysts view that scenario as highly unlikely because of the risks it entails for U.S. interests in the region.

But it has not stopped right-wing politicians and retired generals who are well represented on TV talk shows from speculating on the threat of American boots on Pakistani soil.

On Thursday, the leaders of the country’s feuding political parties put aside their differences to sit under one roof to discuss the issue. In announcing the meeting, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the lawmakers would discuss “the security situation in the wake of threats emanating from outside the country.”

The Sunni Ittehad Council is an organization representing the country’s Barelvi sect, often referred to as the most moderate among Pakistani Muslims. The council issued a statement saying it is obligatory on all Muslims to wage jihad against the United States if it attacks Pakistan.

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