- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistan’s main opposition party said Friday the country could pull out of the war on terror over stepped-up attacks by U.S. forces in the restive tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

An aide to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued the threat hours after 12 people were killed in the latest in a flurry of suspected U.S. missile strikes into Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s government and military have protested to Washington over the strikes.

However, President Asif Ali Zardari and other leaders have reiterated their commitment to fighting violent Islamic extremism and have not threatened to withdraw their cooperation.

Still, Pakistani leaders are sensitive to public opinion, which is hostile to U.S. policy in the region. And agitation on the issue by Mr. Sharif, perhaps the country’s most popular politician, could make it hard for Islamabad to maintain the close alliance with Washington forged by Mr. Zardari’s predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.

American officials have expressed increasing frustration at how Taliban and al Qaeda militants have established bases in Pakistan’s border regions, which provide support for the intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan.

President Bush secretly approved more aggressive cross-border operations in July, current and former American officials have said.

“We need at this time to make it clear to foreign countries that Pakistan will not tolerate such actions,” said Ahsan Iqbal, a leader of Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party. “If it continues, then Pakistan can consider pulling out completely from this war on terror.”

Mr. Iqbal and another party leader called on the government to convene parliament urgently to debate Pakistan’s response.

“The parliament must be convened on a one-point agenda, because the nation is under a threat of war,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said. “Irrespective of where the threat is, every inch of this country is sovereign. Every inch of this country is sacred.”

Pakistani intelligence officials and witnesses said about 12 people died in a pre-dawn strike in the North Waziristan region. They were not immediately identified.

Maj. Murad Khan, an army spokesman, said the latest missile strike occurred about four miles northeast of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.

Gul Zaman Wazir, a local resident, said by phone that he saw at least 12 bodies at a house that was hit, including three children. A large number of militants later sealed off the area, he said.

North Waziristan is part of a belt of tribally governed territory where Pakistan’s government has little control. The frontier region is considered the most likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri.

Since Aug. 13, there have been at least seven reported missile strikes as well as a raid by helicopter-borne U.S. commandos that Pakistani officials claim killed 15 people, all civilians.

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