After a brief lull, US drones resumed missile attacks in the militant-infested tribal regions on Wednesday, notwithstanding Pakistan’s demands for scaling back the covert war of the American spy agency on its soil.
Pakistan has, once again, lodged its protest with the US’ top diplomat in the country.
The fresh drone strike in the South Waziristan Agency coincided with a report in The Washington Post that quoted US defence officials as saying that there was no plan to suspend or restrict the drone campaign of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Pakistan.
This also came a day after The New York Times reported that Islamabad had told Washington to rein in drone strikes and slash the number of CIA agents and Special Operations Forces operating in Pakistan.
Wednesday’s drone attack targeted a vehicle near the town of Angoor Adda in the South Waziristan tribal region, around six kilometres from the border with Afghanistan.
“Four missiles were fired. The target was a vehicle. Six militants were killed,” a military official told AFP requesting anonymity.
Intelligence officials said the dead belonged to the Haqqani Network, an al Qaeda-allied group run by veteran Afghan warlord Sirajuddin Haqqani and based in North Waziristan.
An administration official in South Waziristan said those who died were “all Afghans.”
The drone attack came one day after a meeting between ISI chief Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha and Leon Panetta, Director of the CIA, which runs the drone war.
According to The Washington Post, Panetta told Gen Pasha that he has an obligation to protect the American people and was responsible for national security and therefore he had no plans to call an end to the drone strikes in Pakistan and neither was he planning to alter their frequency.
However, the CIA agreed to reveal more about its operatives and their activities in Pakistan but said that it would offer no information on the under-cover personnel.
The report also clearly stated that Raymond Davis, who had gunned down two Pakistanis at a Lahore market in January, was a CIA agent who was in Pakistan to spy on the country’s nuclear programme and gather more information on terrorist groups.
Analysts said the Washington meeting was meant to mend ties between the two countries, which were strained by a series of diplomatic rows.
“According to my knowledge, the ISI chief discussions in Washington were aimed at redefining the CIA’s activities in Pakistan,”
Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, told The Express Tribune.
The latest drone strike in Angoor Adda was the first since March 17, when civilian and military leaders strongly protested over an attack that killed over 40 people, mostly civilians and police, in North Waziristan.
On Wednesday, too, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir lodged a strong protest with US Ambassador Cameron Munter over the fresh drone attack.
“We have repeatedly said that such attacks are counter-productive and only contribute to strengthen the hands of the terrorists,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office.
“Drone attacks have become a core irritant in the counter-terror campaign. Pakistan has taken up the matter with the US at all levels,” it added.
However, analysts said that any expectations that the CIA would abandon the drone campaign were misplaced, even if Pakistani leaders criticised the strikes.
“My assumption is there would be some kind of understanding for limited drone strikes,” said political and security analyst Hasan Askari.
“Drone strikes also serve Pakistan’s interest. These strikes take place in the areas that are not firmly under the government control. Therefore, they weaken militant elements,” he added.
Brigadier (retd) Mehmood Shah, former secretary security FATA, agreed with Askari. He said there was some covert deal between the US and Pakistan for drone attacks.
“Almost all drone strikes are mutually agreed,” he said. “Prior permission is given by Pakistani officials for each strike,” he told The Express Tribune.
Mohmand, who is also member of the Pak-Afghan peace jirga, also blamed the political leadership for the continuing drone strikes. “Drone attacks can be stopped immediately. But it needs a competent political leadership,” he added.
Official sources said Pakistan’s protest against the March 17 drone attack was, in fact, a protest over the civilian casualties. “Pakistan is fine with the drone campaign as long terrorists are targeted,” the sources told The Express Tribune.
With additional input from AFP
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2011.