WASHINGTION: Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman has said that conversations on drone strikes with the US are yet to take place, adding that Pakistan considers the drone program as counterproductive to its goals.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Ambassador Rehman said that the drone program “radicalises foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region. And what we see, really, is that increasingly Pakistan is feared as a predatory footprint.”
Pakistan has said the drone strikes are counter-productive and the Parliament had even voted calling for an end to the unilateral strikes as a pre-condition to resuming the Nato supply routes through Pakistan.
In response to a question over whether the apology over the Salala incident meant that Pakistan had allowed the drone program to continue, Rehman denied the assertion, and said that the apology over the Salala incident has “opened the space for an opportunity where we can have constructive conversations that might be to the satisfaction of both sides. Right now, we have given no go-ahead at all.” She added that their concerns over the drone strikes could not be brushed aside.
In related news, at least 17 people were reported to have been killed in North Waziristan in a ‘triple strike’ a few days after the apology over the Salala incident was offered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ambassador Rehman said that the drone program tests the relationship between Pakistan and the US at every juncture. “We honestly feel that there are better ways now of eliminating al Qaeda, which has been done with our help. And we have been doing that consistently. We’re the heavy lifters in this relationship.”
When asked about whether Pakistan accepted the accounting of how the Obama administration identified militants, Rehman said it was worrisome, “because this leads to what you call signature strikes, if I’m not mistaken, where a certain level of suspected activity generates or motivates the trigger for — I really don’t know what motivates the trigger for X level or Y level of drone strikes.”
In response to a question about the long-awaited apology over the Salala incident, Rehman said that Pakistan was seeking the apology or the word “sorry”. “There were occasions when I think that it was almost on the table. And there were occasions when it looked like it’s off the table. She added that while there was pressure on Pakistan, she did not think they were applied or planned by the administration. “I think that what did really happen was it perhaps may be the politics of election year in Washington playing itself out.” She added that there also needs to be less “tough talk” in public, and said there was a trust deficit between both countries that needed to be worked on.
Relations between Pakistan and the US took a turn for the worse in 2011, with the Raymond Davis affair, the Abbotabad raid and then the Salala airstrike being key incidents that led to a near breakdown of relations. Another subject that has incensed lawmakers in Congress in particular has been the incarceration and conviction of Dr Shakil Afridi, who worked with the CIA in trying to verify Bin Laden’s identity in the Abbottabad compound.
Rehman said that he should not be lionised, as Dr Afridi had no knowledge that he was seeking to bring Osama Bin Laden in, even though he was contracting with a foreign intelligence agency.
“He was contracting with many terrorist outfits, at least one that we know of on the ground. He was even kidnapped by one, and he was in many transactions on the ground, all over the place. He is one of many such people who have been convicted for such actions. And his conviction is really for contracting with one of the terrorist groups that is waging or attempting to attack our soldiers. We’ve had several beheaded recently. Certainly our government would have considered a feather in our cap to get Osama bin Laden.”
Rehman said that Pakistan has faced near-daily bomb attacks by terrorists, and said that they do not want to play host to terrorists and international terrorists. “It is our fight as much as anyone else’s, because we are committed to eliminating terrorism at its root and source.