While the new Pakistani administration lodged its first diplomatic protest against America’s unmanned war in the tribal belt, the visiting German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, used diplomatic niceties to avoid direct comments on the highly contentious issue.
“This is a sensitive issue for the people of Pakistan and for relations between the United States and Pakistan. President [Barack] Obama has recently announced a fresh policy on drones,” said Westerwelle when asked if his country supports Islamabad’s position on drone attacks.
Interestingly, the German foreign minister, instead, offered sympathies for the deaths in a green-on-blue attack in neighbouring Afghanistan. “I would like to add words of sympathy for the three US soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan today,” he told a joint media briefing with Sartaj Aziz, Premier Nawaz Sharif’s adviser on national security and foreign affairs, in Islamabad on Saturday.
Aziz, however, minced no words to oppose these attacks as a breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The issue will be taken up when the US secretary of state [John Kerry] visits Pakistan by the end of this month,” he said.
Hours earlier, Islamabad lodged a ‘strong protest’ against Friday’s drone strike in North Waziristan Agency that killed seven people.
The special assistant to the prime minister for foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi, summoned US Charge d’Affaires Richard Hoagland to the Foreign Office and handed him a demarche, according to a statement issued by the Foreign Office.US Ambassador Richard Oslson was out of the country at the time.
The latest drone strike took place two days after Premier Nawaz called for an end to the controversial campaign in his inaugural speech in the National Assembly, and about 10 days after a similar strike killed the Pakistani Taliban’s chief military strategist Waliur Rehman.
“It was conveyed to the US charge d’affaires that the government of Pakistan strongly condemns the drone strikes which are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The importance of bringing an immediate end to drone strikes was emphasised,” according to the statement.
It was also pointed out to Ambassador Hoagland that “the government has consistently maintained that drone strikes are counterproductive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications.”
Finally, it was stressed to the US envoy that the drone strikes have a negative impact on the mutual desire of both countries to forge a cordial and cooperative relationship and to ensure peace and stability in the region.
Rehman’s death stalled peace talks between the government and the militants. The TTP withdrew its offer and blamed Islamabad for Rehman’s death, saying it was complicit in the US drone campaign in the tribal areas.
In his inaugural address as prime minister, Nawaz said: “We respect the sovereignty of others and they should respect our sovereignty and independence. This campaign must come to an end now.”
Attacks by unmanned American aircraft are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, but Washington views them as a vital tool in the fight against Taliban and al Qaeda militants in the lawless tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.
Rehman, who had a $5 million US government bounty on his head, was killed after US President Barack Obama outlined new and more restrictive guidelines on drone use.
Washington had accused Rehman of organising attacks against US and Nato forces in Afghanistan including a suicide attack in 2009 that killed seven Central Intelligence Agency agents.
Ties with Washington will be a key part of Nawaz’s tenure, particularly as Nato withdraws the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year after more than 12 years of war.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2013.
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