ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has asked the United States to halt its highly controversial drone campaign following reports that US President Barack Obama’s administration was planning to give the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) a “free hand” to continue its remotely-controlled war in tribal regions.
The issue was raised by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in a meeting with Richard Olson, the US ambassador in Islamabad, on Tuesday, a foreign ministry official told The Express Tribune.
Foreign Minister Khar voiced her concern over reports that the CIA would step up its drone campaign in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, said the official, who wished not to be named.
She also urged Ambassador Olson to explain his government’s position on the new “playbook” for targeted killings, which would not apply to Pakistan. This, according to The Washington Post, means the CIA will continue to hunt for al Qaeda and its Taliban cohorts in the tribal regions for a year or so before the new rules become applicable to it.
According to the statistics of the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 2,627 and 3,457 people – including between 475 and 900 civilians – have been reportedly killed by US drones in Pakistan since 2004.
An official statement issued by the foreign ministry did not say whether or not Foreign Minister Khar raised the issue of drones with Ambassador Olson. “They discussed the overall bilateral relationship and both expressed satisfaction on the positive trajectory in Pakistan-US ties,” said the statement. It added that both sides were committed to further building on the recent progress in bilateral ties on the basis of mutual respect.
They also discussed the regional situation, especially progress in the international efforts for restoring peace in Afghanistan. Ambassador Olson, according to the statement, appreciated Pakistan’s positive role and contribution to the cause of regional peace and stability.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Khar told senators in the upper house of Parliament that Pakistan has decided in principle to seek clarification from Washington over the ‘Counter-Terrorism Manual’.
“[There has been] no clarification from the US yet, but we will take up the drone issue with Washington and its ambassador to Pakistan,” Khar told lawmakers during the Senate question hour.
On Monday, Senators Mushahid Hussain Sayed and Zaffar Ali Shah asked the government to explain its position over the issue.
“If the newly-proposed law becomes operative, where would be the sovereignty of Pakistan,” Shah asked. Mushahid chimed in: “Such legislation was being prepared, which was against Pakistan’s sovereignty.”
Khar sought to address the lawmakers’ concerns. “We repeatedly raised our concerns on drone strikes. They are proving counter-productive in the war against terrorism,” she said.
A clear-cut opinion was emerging in the entire world, including the US, against drone strikes, she added. At the same time, the world is also raising concerns over the civilian casualties in drone strikes. (With additional reporting by Zahid Gishkori and Peer Muhammad)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2013.