New York, Mar.23 : The Bush Administration has expressed alarm and concern over leaders of Pakistan's new coalition government saying they will negotiate with militants behind a series of attacks across Pakistan,and that it will use military force only as a last resort.
According to a New York Times report, American officials fear this softening stance will hamper Washington's free hand to strike at militants using pilot-less Predator drones.
According to the paper, many Pakistanis are convinced that the surge in suicide bombings - 17 in the first 10 weeks of 2008 - is retaliation for three Predator strikes since the beginning of the year.
Speaking in separate interviews, the leaders of Pakistan's new government coalition - Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N - have tried to strike a more independent stance from Washington and repackage the conflict in a more palatable way for Pakistanis.
They said they were determined to set a different course from that of President Musharraf, who has received over 10 billion dollars in military support from Washington since 2003.
"We are dealing with our own people. We will deal with them very sensibly. And when you have a problem in your own family, you don't kill your own family. You sit and talk," said Sharif.
"Obviously what they have been doing for the last eight years has not been working. Even a fool knows that.The war against the insurgents has to be redefined," Zardari said.
Washington opposed the past negotiations because in its view short-term peace deals between the militants and the Pakistani military were a sign of weakness and resulted in the militants' winning time to fortify themselves.
But precisely how those talks would be different from the negotiations that led to failed peace deals under Musharraf is not entirely clear, except that negotiators would represent the newly elected government rather than the military government of the past eight years.
Any result that smacks of Pakistan's ceding further control over the tribal areas is not one likely to be welcomed in Washington. The Bush administration views the tribal areas as a sanctuary for Taliban forces, who cross the border into Afghanistan to fight American and Nato forces, as well as a base for al-Qaeda to plot new terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe.
Pakistanis, however, have come to see the tribal areas as something entirely different: a once peaceful region where a group of militants have turned their wrath on the rest of the country as punishment for the American alliance.
Washington may have little choice but to adjust to the new policies, the paper quoted retired Pakistani Army brigadier, Mehmood Shah, who was in charge of security in the tribal areas, as saying.
Of the new Pakistani government, Shah said: "They will not like to be seen as dictated to by the United States. They would like it to be seen as our war."