The government has said that it has once again taken up the issue of US drone strikes on Pakistani territory with the visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – effectively warning her that Islamabad would be bound by a parliamentary resolution to review its relationship with Washington if the strikes continued.
However, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan, at a press conference following a cabinet meeting on Friday, said that Clinton stopped short of making any commitments to stop the attacks – saying instead that she will consult with her leadership.
“The people of Pakistan, the government and parliament have made it clear that drone stikes are unacceptable. And if they continue, our bilateral relations with the US could be affected,” said Awan.
“Pakistan’s message was conveyed to the US Secretary of State and she will consult with her country’s leadership. We presented our point of view. Let’s give them some time to react to that,” said Awan.
During a special closed-door joint session of Parliament on May 13, the legislature unanimously adopted a resolution calling upon the government to review security cooperation with the United States in the event that drone strikes continue.
The resolution did not, however, specify a time period after which drone strikes are expected to stop. Most analysts believe that any Pakistani response would likely consist of halting Nato supply trucks from passing through Pakistani territory, a move that Pakistan has temporarily undertaken in the past.
Awan did not specify what would happen if the United States did not accede to Pakistan’s demand, saying only that Parliament would then meet to decide the country’s course of action.
Both the current and previous administrations have been denying the existence of any understanding between Islamabad and Washington over the drone strikes, which the US considers a key component of its strategy against terrorism. Most observers believe those denials are only to placate public opinion in Pakistan.
Pakistan has, however, requested the transfer of operational control of the drone strike programme from the United States, as a possible compromise between the US national security establishment’s goals and Pakistani public opinion, which seems more outraged at the apparent loss of sovereignty as a result of the attacks.
Govt admits security lapses
After initially denying any problems, the government admitted that security lapses were partially to blame for the attack on the naval air base in Karachi.
Awan said that Interior Minister Rehman Malik will present the preliminary report on the PNS Mehran incident to the prime minister in a few days, adding that an internal inquiry into the incident has been launched by the Navy while a separate inquiry involving intelligence officials and other stakeholders will also be conducted.
When asked about the formation of the independent commission on Abbottabad incursion, Awan said the government was committed to implementing the parliament decision.
She said: “The head of the commission is going to an independent non-controversial figure and will be decided with the consensus of all stakeholders,” said Awan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2011.