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Pakistanis lash out at U.S. 'meddling'

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  • U.S. envoys n Pakistan as the county swears in new prime minster
  • Newspaper editorials decry what they say is a lack of U.S. discretion
  • Papers say Washington is trying to shore up dwindling support from Pakistan
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- On editorial pages and in the streets, incensed Pakistanis accused an impatient America on Thursday of meddling in the country's affairs even before it was done naming a new cabinet.

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Protesters in Pakistan burn the U.S. flag in anger at a visit by envoys from Washington.

Two top U.S. envoys landed in Pakistan this week to conduct meetings with newly-elected leaders. They arrived on the same day as the county was swearing in a new prime minster.

Some in Pakistan said the visit was an attempt by the Bush administration to gauge whether it could count on the same level of allegiance from the new government that it got from President Pervez Musharraf -- whose power has eroded since the February elections.

An article in the Washington Post on Thursday further stoked suspicions. The report said that the United States has stepped up its air strikes against al Qaeda militants in Pakistan's tribal areas fearing that support from Islamabad might slip away.

In an editorial Thursday, the English-language Pakistani daily The News asked the United States to leave Pakistan alone to "chalk out a brighter future for everyone in the country."

"It is, after all, Pakistani men, women and children who die when bombs explode; it is their blood that stains roadsides; their screams that fill hospital emergency rooms," the editorial said.

"The U.S.-directed policies of the past seven years have led only to an expansion in militancy, to more violence and to more hatred."

Another newspaper in Pakistan, Dawn, labeled Tuesday's arrival of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher "indecent haste.

"So far Washington's close and overt involvement in the war on Pakistan's soil has only fueled anti-American sentiments and this has proved to be a setback for the Pakistan Army," Dawn wrote.

"A discreet stance on the part of the U.S. might prove to be slightly more helpful."

The Urdu-language newspaper Nawa-e-Waqt headlined its editorial "Washington tries to save the rule of its ally Musharraf." And another daily, The Nation, said, "The Bush administration, which has been crying hoarse for a democratic order to be put in place, ought to accept the people's verdict with good grace."

Faisal Kapadia, a commodities trader in Karachi, told CNN Thursday that the newspapers echoed the sentiments of residents who feel the visit laid bare America's true intentions for Pakistan.

"The people on the street feel -- this is not my personal opinion -- that America is treating Pakistan as a vassal state and they are dictating to us how we should conduct ourselves according to policies that benefit America rather than Pakistan," he said.

Analyst Marvin Weinbaum of Washington's Middle East Institute agreed that Pakistanis are interpreting the visit as America "coming to give marching orders."

"The last thing that the (new government) wants to do is to give the impression that they've replaced Musharraf" as the United States' favorites, Weinbaum -- a former U.S. State Department analyst on Pakistani affairs -- told CNN.

Indeed, Pakistan's new leaders have told the U.S. envoys -- in both diplomatic and stark terms -- that the country plans to chart a different course than Musharraf in its battle against Islamic extremists.

After his meeting with the envoys, Nawaz Sharif -- a former prime minister and a leader in the ruling coalition -- accused President Musharraf of using the "war on terror" for personal gains and warned there would be no more "one-man show" in the country.

The next day, newly-elected prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, told the U.S. officials that fighting extremists remained a concern. But the key to doing so lies in economically empowering the people in the lawless region near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, according to Pakistan's national news agency.

Until now, Musharraf's approach had been to send massive numbers of Pakistani forces into the region.

The envoys also met with tribal leaders -- and met with the same message.

According to press reports, the tribal chiefs warned the officials that any direct action by the United States and allied forces in the tribal territory would have "disastrous consequences."

"We don't want to be dictated by the ill-informed bureaucracy of Islamabad how to deal with internal issues of tribal areas," the leaders were quoted as saying in The News.

Worried of just such a sea change in Pakistan's anti-terrorism approach, the United States has escalated its unilateral strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas, the Washington Post said.

Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft are known to have struck at least three sites used by al Qaeda operatives, killing 45 Arab, Afghan and other foreign fighters, the newspaper said, quoting unnamed U.S. officials.

The moves followed a tacit understanding with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, the officials said told the paper.

Washington has sent billions of dollars to Musharraf in the last few years in his battle against extremists. The country is due to receive $300 million this year from the Bush administration for the cause.

Weinbaum, the U.S. analyst, said he does not think Washington will cut any of that aid now.

The nuclear-armed nation has been wracked by attacks since the government stepped up its battle against Islamic extremists. More than 400 people have died since December in such attacks.

Weinbaum said the new government's negotiation strategy won't work in the end, but the leaders must pursue the strategy in order to show they are running Pakistan without the interference of the United States.

"They've got to go through this exercise to see if there's a non-military solution," Weinbaum said. "It will give them credibility with their own supporters."

While Pakistanis overall do not support the extremists in the tribal regions, they are equally unsupportive of deadly military operations against those extremists, he said.

"It won't succeed," Weinbaum said of the negotiations, "but it's something they've got to work out themselves." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Patricia Escobedo and Saeed Ahmed contributed to this report

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