Parliament’s unfamiliar path to guide foreign policy has already hit its first roadblock. The United States has allegedly refused to revisit its policy governing drone use in Pakistan’s tribal badlands.
The message was conveyed by US Ambassador Cameron Munter in a meeting here on Thursday with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, sources say, where the two discussed the revised terms of engagement with the US tabled before parliament earlier this week.
The 40-point report of the all-party Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS), presented in a joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate, included calls for US and Nato forces in Afghanistan to pay charges for the transit of their supplies via Pakistan, an “unconditional” US apology for a deadly attack on Pakistani border posts in November and a halt to drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
According to sources, the US envoy informed the foreign minister that even though Washington was willing to tender a formal apology over the Nato airstrikes that killed at least two dozen Pakistani soldiers in Mohmand Agency, he ruled out the possibility of revisiting US policy of relying on unmanned aerial vehicles to pursue its battle against al Qeada and Taliban in the tribal areas.
According to a statement issued by the foreign ministry, the US ambassador said that the US fully respected Pakistan’s parliamentary process and was looking forward to putting relations back on track on the basis of mutual respect.
The Obama administration considers the CIA-led drone campaign in the tribal areas of Pakistan as a vital tool to dismantle the ability of al Qaeda and its affiliates to target US interests.
But the policy has stoked widespread anti-American sentiments in Pakistan and the civilian leadership sees it as counter-productive to its anti-terror efforts, even though there is suspicion that Islamabad might have a secret understanding with Washington on the use of drones.
An overturn of drone policy has also been ruled out by US Congressman Senator Joe Lieberman. Lieberman rejected the demand, saying “drone strikes are critically important to America’s national security. So obviously, I do not believe they should stop.”
US Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein believes that the drone campaign is needed due to an absent aggressive effort by Pakistan to root out terrorists and radical militants.
“I think the key is whether Pakistan will go into North Waziristan and other places and take out those terrorist leaders who are essentially fuelling and leading attacks against our troops in Afghanistan,” said Feinstein.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Abdul Basit rejected Feinstein’s assertion, insisting that there was no question of Pakistan’s capacity to fight the war with its own resources.
“Pakistan has killed and arrested over 700 al Qaeda operatives so there is no question about our capacity. We are very confident. We can deal with it through our own national resources provided there is sharing of real-time intelligence,” Basit said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2012.