Drone strikes, despite being ‘a major irritant’ in US-Pakistan relations, did not make an appearance in the joint statement issued by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and US President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, The Washington Post published a news report on Pakistan’s collusion in the drone programme.
These developments on Wednesday makes suspect Pakistan’s official stance of slamming US-sponsored drone strikes for violating its sovereignty.
The Pakistani media at home had hyped up the meeting between Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz, anticipating the latter to demand a vehement denouement to the drone campaign. But the hype dissipated when the prime minister, during his meeting, merely asked the US president to rethink the drone policy.
Meanwhile, the word ‘drone’ was not even mentioned in the entire text of the joint statement issued after their meeting.
Moreover, The Washington Post reported that Pakistan had for years secretly approved of US drone attacks despite public denunciations.
The American newspaper said that top-secret documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos showed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had drafted documents to share information on drone attacks with Pakistan.
At least 65 drone strikes were marked for discussion with Pakistan, through briefings at its embassy in Washington and in materials sent physically to senior officials in Islamabad.
In one case in 2010, a document describes hitting a location ‘at the request of your government.’ Another file referred to a joint effort at picking targets.
The report came a day after Amnesty International said that the United States may have broken international law and may be guilty of war crimes as many unaccounted for civilians were killed.But The Washington Post’s revelations concerned strikes in a four-year period
from late 2007, when Gen Pervez Musharraf was in power, to late 2011 when Pakistan Peoples Party had taken over.
Pakistan denies collusion
Foreign ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said the anti-drone stance of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government was clear and any past agreements no longer applied.
“Whatever understandings there may or may not have been in the past, the present government has been very clear regarding its policy on the issue,” he told AFP.
Meanwhile, security officials claimed that The Washington Post story was a US attempt to undermine PM Nawaz’s position and reduce criticism of the drone campaign, days after the Amnesty International report. “The purpose of giving such stories is nothing but face-saving. Americans are trying to dilute the growing pressure by using back channels and making Pakistan a party to the whole issue,” one official said on the condition of anonymity.
Yousaf Raza Gilani, prime minister from 2008 until June last year, vehemently denied giving any approval for drone strikes. “We have never allowed Americans to carry out drone attacks in the tribal areas,” Gilani told AFP.
“From the very beginning we are against drone strikes and we have conveyed it to Americans at all forums.”
A diplomatic cable from then-US ambassador Anne Patterson, dated August 2008 and released by Wikileaks, indicated Gilani had agreed to the strikes in private. “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it,” the leaked cable quoted him as telling US officials.
In April this year, Musharraf told CNN that he had authorised drone strikes in Pakistan while he was in power.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2013.
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