Zardari urges Obama to review missile strikes
* President says terror campaign being hampered by US strikes
* Insists no economic meltdown looming, defends turning to IMF
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan expects US president-elect Barack Obama to re-evaluate American military strikes on suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban targets on its side of the Afghan border, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Monday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Zardari warned the surge in missile attacks since August was hurting Pakistan’s own fight against the Al Qaeda and Taliban - a campaign he said was succeeding nonetheless.
Zardari said Obama would re-examine that strategy, but acknowledged the Democrat - who struck a hawkish tone during the election - may continue the attacks.
“I think there is definitively going to be a new look at all the issues that have been on the table of the United States and this is one of the large issues,” said Zardari.
The attacks have killed some Al Qaeda and Taliban men, but many of the dead have been civilians, including women and children, stoking anger among locals, Pakistani officials say.
“We feel that the strikes are an intrusion on our sovereignty which are not appreciated by the people at large, and the first aspect of this war is to win the hearts and minds of the people,” Zardari said.
The United States is pressing Pakistan to take more action against Al Qaeda and Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which many consider the global frontline in the fight against Al Qaeda.
Pakistan has pursued a military campaign in Bajaur Agency since August that officials say has killed 1,500 suspected Taliban.
US officials say it has helped stem the flow of fighters into neighbouring Afghanistan, where they are blamed for rising attacks on American troops.
“I think from where it was when we took over, we are in a much better place,” said Zardari. “We used the force of the government and they (the Taliban) realised that there is a force here, that the people of Pakistan are to be reckoned with.”
Economic meltdown: Pakistan also faces dire economic problems, from soaring inflation to a falling currency.
The government is talking to the International Monetary Fund about a bailout, a politically unpopular move because it could mean cuts in government programmes that help the poor.
Zardari insisted that there was no economic meltdown looming in Pakistan, but also defended turning to the IMF.
“I think it’s a difficult pill, but one has to take medicine to get better,” Zardari said. ap