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Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Saturday, 19 July 2008 11:55 UK

Pakistan's uneasy alliance with US

The US and Pakistan remain allies in the international fight against terrorism but relations have been worsening. The US is accusing Pakistan of failing to rein in Taleban and al-Qaeda militants that take refuge in its border region and, as Barbara Plett reports, there is growing anger among Pakistanis towards the US.

Coffins of Pakistan army soldiers killed near Peshawar in June 2008
When soldiers here die fighting the pro-Taleban tribesmen in their border region, there is a debate about whether or not they are martyrs

About a thousand soldiers have died since Pakistan joined America's so-called "war on terror".

So the funerals of 11 more, killed last month along the Afghan-Pakistan border, should not have been anything unusual.

But those who attended the services described a feeling that had been absent in the past.

Many of the family members were clearly proud. They considered their sons martyrs who had died for the homeland.

Pakistani soldiers who were supposed to be fighting hand-in-hand with US forces against the Taleban had, in fact, been killed by US missiles.

The Americans said they had been aiming at militants. Pakistan called it an unprovoked act of aggression.

When soldiers here die fighting the pro-Taleban tribesmen in their border region, there is a debate about whether or not they are martyrs. Some religious scholars say that honour belongs to the Taleban, not to troops fighting their own people.

This time, according to those at the funerals, there was no such ambivalence.

These soldiers were killed by Americans... non-Muslims, said the Imams, bent on harming Islamic countries. "May God destroy the alien forces," they prayed.


During my time here, there has always been antipathy to American foreign policy, as in other Muslim countries where the "war on terror" is seen as little more than a war against Islam.

Anne Patterson
Anne Patterson became US ambassador to Pakistan in 2007

Lately though, the anti-Americanism has swelled to a tide, not only in the border region but in the more Westernised urban centres as well.

Even the usually cloistered American ambassador, Anne Patterson, felt the chill.

"I'm surprised at the depth of anti-Americanism," she admitted in a recent meeting with Pakistani businessmen, "especially in the middle classes."

She reminded her audience of how Pakistan benefits from US economic assistance and that it shares the same long-term interests. "It is the prosperous middle class that would be the first to suffer should the extremists win," she said.

A few weeks later she was snubbed by a member of that prosperous middle class while handing out awards for academic excellence. A Pakistani university student brushed past her, strode to the podium and made a 20-second protest speech.

The young man, who is studying at Harvard, became a celebrity. He was praised by the media and inundated with thousands of messages of support.

His moment of defiance was endlessly replayed on YouTube.

There is a growing sense that Pakistan has been sucked into an unwinnable war

In his speech he told the ambassador he was protesting against "repeated US air strikes that kill many innocent Pakistanis," and what he said was US tacit support for an unconstitutional president.

He was referring to George Bush's support for Pakistan's erstwhile military leader Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup.

The US president called the general Washington's most "allied ally" in the international fight against terrorism. Pakistanis called him "Busharraf".

But cynicism turned to anger when Mr Bush continued to back his friend, despite a popular movement against Mr Musharraf for illegally purging the judiciary and despite the defeat of the president's supporters in February's general elections.

Military involvement

America's key relationship in Pakistan has been with the army, especially since 9/11.

Put simply, the US pays the Pakistani army billions of dollars to fight the "war on terror".

Pakistani Taleban
Pakistani Taleban chant slogans after skirmishes with US-led forces

US legislators refer to this relationship as transactional but many Pakistanis say it is mercenary.

In recent trips with the army to the border region, I got the feeling the tag is beginning to hurt.

The military's high profile cooperation with the Americans has triggered waves of revenge attacks within the country, many targeting the army.

There is a growing sense that Pakistan has been sucked into an unwinnable war.

"The only way we can guarantee peace is to kill every last tribesman," one Pakistani general said to us. He was only half joking.

America's war

The US also accuses Pakistan of failing to stop the movement of Taleban fighters to Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan.

But it is true that policing a mountainous border 2,400 km (1,500 miles) long is an enormous challenge, especially when the Afghan government refuses to recognise the frontier.

As long as it is the army that is leading the way... many Pakistanis will continue to see this as America's war

"We can't do it," the same general told us. "The only way is to put up a sophisticated fencing system, and that's an international responsibility."

Pakistan does face a serious threat from Islamist militancy. But as long as it is the army that is leading the way, with little apparent support from the people, many Pakistanis will continue to see this as America's war.

That is why the army itself is advocating a debate in parliament, so the country can evolve its own policy.

Some (the real pessimists) say the only way to win crucial public backing for the battle against Islamist violence, is to de-link it from America's war in Afghanistan.

That seems impossible.

No matter how much the people here oppose America's Afghan policies, no Pakistani government or army can scupper the relationship with Washington. They depend too much on US assistance.

It is a fundamental contradiction that is fuelling tensions and explains why families feel proud that their soldier sons were martyred by Pakistan's most important ally.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 19 July, 2008 at 1130 BST, on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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