PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sept. 11, 2008 — -- Pakistan's army chief lashed out angrily today at what he portrayed as increased U.S. aggression, just hours before a U.S. news report suggested that President Bush approved orders for military troops to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the consent of the Pakistani government.
In Pakistan the news may inflame the already high-pitched criticism of the U.S. role here.
Just a few hours before the New York Times posted a story about Bush approving the attacks, the chief of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, released a statement warning that "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations against inside [sic] Pakistan."
Kiyani is seen here and in the U.S. as a military leader who wants to give the civilian government a chance to make decisions for themselves. He has declared 2008 the year of the soldier, trying to focus the army's attention on the operations it's launched in the tribal areas instead of politics.
But he has also said he believes the militancy can only be defeated by a combination of political and military means. He made clear in the statement he thinks the Americans' version of fighting this war -- focused on military attacks often without notifying the Pakistani government -- is inadequate.
"To succeed, the coalition would be required to display strategic patience and help the other side the way they want it rather than adopting a unilateral approach which may be counterproductive... There is no question of any agreement or understanding with the Coalition Forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border."
The less popular America becomes here, the more difficult it is for the Pakistani military to keep its often skeptical soldiers in line with operations against the militants.
Meanwhile President Asif Ali Zardari is in some ways beholden to the U.S. for helping arrange the deal that brought Benazir Bhutto back and cleared the couple of all corruption charges in Pakistan. During his press conference yesterday Zardari declined to criticize the U.S. for the recent increase of attacks on Pakistani soil.
But if he is seen as tolerating too much American aggression, he risks becoming immensely unpopular at a time when he is trying to convince Pakistanis the war on terror is their war as much as it is an American war.
Publicly, revealing U.S. plans to become more aggressive inside Pakistan in some ways makes this war more difficult to fight -- since it can sideline and alienate Pakistanis inside and outside the military who do believe in a more aggressive stance against the militants.