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Monday, August 16, 2010

Pakistan : Presence of U.S. troops on Pakistani soils brings controversy

Round-the-clock diligent relief and rescue efforts have further enhanced U.S. military's image in the country, though the entry of 1,000 U.S. marines to join hands in relief operations have presented a scenario with both repercussions and opportunities, local analysts say.

"We trust U.S. Army. It's helping us and can never leave us alone," Al'lan Fakir Jr., a famous folk singer told media on Friday at the site of heavily flooded River Indus in southern Sindh province.

However, despite the favorable sentiments, the presence of U.S. troops might jeopardize the rising positive image of U.S relief aid and assistance. Although, they are here for a good job, it can certainly create image complications, local watchers believe.

Some 60,000 dedicated troops of Pakistani military are involved in relief and rescue operations across the flood hit country where over 1,300 people have lost lives during the past couple of weeks of heavy monsoon rains and floods. Some 15 million have been affected including six million children and some 7.22 million homes damaged, according to UN reports.

The United Nations chief Ban Ki-Moon who will be visiting Pakistan on a day-long trip on Saturday has appealed the world to contribute 460 million dollars to meet the challenges posed by floods.

"The natural calamity has provided the United States with the best excuse to step onto the Pakistani soil," a foreign journalist touring the flood affected areas in the northwest commented on anonymity in the backdrop of rising anti-American sentiment.

USS Peleliu, a helicopter borne amphibious assault ship moored in open waters off the coast of southern port city of Karachi with 19 "multi-purpose" helicopters and 1,000 marines set to operate in partnership with Pakistani military throughout the country's flood affected areas.

With the U.S. assistance, Pakistan had come to recognize the Taliban threat from within, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gate's recently stated in Tampa, Florida while indicating a "dramatic" improvement in military relations with Pakistan.

The U.S. has told Pakistan to keep pressure on radical militant groups operating close to Afghan border, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

"American administration might be interested in hitting the two birds with the same stone," said Arshi Saleem, Senior Research Analyst at the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) in Islamabad.

"Winning hearts and minds and relief work, and taking care of militants," she added.

Interestingly, Taliban and some other disbanded militant outfits including Lashkar-e-Taiba are also participating in the badly needed relief work in the affected areas of rugged northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the insurgent militants fighting a war against Pakistani troops in the troubled tribal areas of Pakistan along Afghanistan border have conditionally offered 20 million dollars for relief work urging Pakistan to stop taking aid from the West.

Taliban can even possibly increase the amount of monetary assistance, or could retaliate in case of an expected rejection and increasing presence of U.S. troops. Though they have been avoiding confrontation and have significantly reduced subversion over the past couple of weeks, analysts observe.

In a society soaked with conspiracy theories, presence of U.S. troops along with significant Pakistani military force in relief and rescue operations, the current development of the presence of U.S. troops possess all the possibility of being portrayed negatively, they add.

Pakistan has long been resisting U.S. proposals of conducting surgical strikes or covert operations by its troops in northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, especially when the United States operated drone strikes have attracted severe criticism for killing significantly high number of civilians in the attacks, both by Pakistani people and the international organizations including the United Nations.

"There is a possibility of info-leaks leading to big arrests since militants are operating openly doing relief work," said Arshi Saleem, an Afghan affairs and counterterrorism expert. "We might hear some big names arrested," he said.

It is quite possible that both entities militants and the troops might ignore each other and focus on their "image building" agenda through relief work. However, with the beefing up of U.S. military' s physical presence, the possibility of friction with militants cannot be ruled out, analysts believe.

Source: Xinhua

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