Barely 24 hours after Islamabad and Washington managed to settle a crippling diplomatic conundrum that was the Raymond Davis issue, a fresh stand-off between the two allies is in the making following a potent drone strike in North Waziristan on Thursday.
In the deadliest attack since 2006, at least 38 people, including tribal elders, were killed in a drone strike when US missiles missed their target and hit a local jirga.
In reaction, Pakistan, through its Foreign Office, has now asked the United States to apologise for the incident.
A strong-worded statement by the Foreign Office said that the strike was, “not only unacceptable but also a flagrant violation of all humanitarian rules and norms.”
It said that Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir had “conveyed this strong condemnation to US Ambassador Cameron Munter and demanded an apology and explanation.”
“Ambassador Hussain Haqqani has also been asked to make a similar strong demarche with the US State Department.”
The drone strike
Locals told The Express Tribune that the attack occurred in the Nayya Adda area of Datta Khel tehsil. The strike that occurred some 40 kilometres west of the agency headquarters Miramshah, also injured 15 people.
In the second attack in the area in as many days, a US predator targeted a moving vehicle, missed its target as the vehicle moved in the direction of a nearby gathering of tribal elders. In an attempt to hit the militants, the predator fired four more missiles on the gathering.
There were conflicting reports on the number of casualties, with some media reports claiming that 40 people had been killed.
However, sources in the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan told The Express Tribune later in the evening that a total of 32 people were present in the jirga between Kharhtangi and Datakhel tribes. They confirmed the death of 26 people including 12 Taliban and 14 Maliks (tribal elders). The TTP did not give the names of members of their outfit killed, but named the elders who had died.
In a rare statement, Governor Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Masood Kasur, who also oversees the tribal belt on behalf of the president, condemned the attack. A press statement quoted the governor as saying that a tribal jirga was targeted in the attack and it had killed many tribal elders and Khasadar force personnel. “The Pakistani government and people will not tolerate such attacks. They are against the country’s sovereignty,” the statement added.
The governor expressed regret over the loss of lives, referring to the deceased as “martyrs.” He directed authorities for immediate compensation to the families of the victims.
Meanwhile, some sources also suggested that the jirga was presided over by a militant commander loyal to Taliban warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who is known for his close links to the Haqqani network.
Drone attacks, which had decreased during the time CIA contractor Raymond Davis was arrested for killing two Pakistanis, have surged for the past few days in both the North and South Waziristan agencies. Thursday’s lethal strike occurred only a day after Davis was released.
The most lethal strike since the drone campaign started was in the tribal region of Bajaur when 80 people, mostly madrassa students, were killed as missiles hit a training camp. Some reports claim that the attack was carried by helicopters of the Pakistani government and not by US drones.
Datta Khel is one of the most targeted areas in the CIA’s air campaign in Pakistan. At least 120 out of 127 drone attacks carried out during the past year were carried out in North Waziristan Agency, with most of them in Datta Khel tehsil. Forty-five of the 234 strikes, or 19 per cent, have taken place in Datta Khel since the US began carrying out strikes in Pakistan in 2004, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. And so far this year, eight of the 19 strikes in Pakistan have taken place in Datta Khel.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP AND NEWS DESK.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2011.