ISLAMABAD: The United States has assured Pakistan that it will temporarily call off the controversial drone campaign if the Taliban sat across the table with government negotiators for peace talks, the prime minister’s top foreign policy aide revealed on Wednesday.
Islamabad’s fledgling peace process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fell apart earlier this month after a remotely-piloted aircraft killed Hakimullah Mehsud in a missile strike in North Waziristan Agency.
Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s adviser on national security and foreign affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Hakimullah was eliminated because the US considered him a ‘high-value target’. Aziz, however, reiterated that the TTP chief’s killing scuttled the nascent peace process.
The disclosure came as the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government prepares to block the vital supply routes for the US-led Nato forces fighting a deadly insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Aziz informed the Senate panel – headed by ANP Senator Haji Adeel – that the government was trying to resuscitate peace efforts. However, he did not explain when and where the US assured Pakistan of suspending drone strikes to allow Islamabad to re-launch peace dialogue.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the issue of drones with US President Barack Obama last month. However, the American leader did not make any public commitment on the controversial issue.
Pakistani sources, nevertheless, claimed that the Obama administration had agreed to consider the government’s request of temporarily suspending drone attacks during the peace process.
Meanwhile, officials suggested that Aziz’s announcement was aimed at pushing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to call off its planned protest in Peshawar on November 23. The PTI insisted that it would not let Nato containers pass through the province unless drone strikes are halted. Aziz told the Senate panel that under the agreement Pakistan could not stop Nato supplies passing through its territory.
Meanwhile, officials revealed that US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson recently met with the PM’s adviser and conveyed his country’s concerns over the possible blockade of supply routes.
PTI scoffs at disclosure
Imran Khan’s party rejected the proposed compromise between Pakistan and the US on temporarily halting drone strikes in the tribal areas, questioning the credibility of the statement made by Sartaj Aziz.
“The PTI rejects any limited compromises in relation to ending drone attacks,” said the party’s Central Information Secretary, Shireen Mazari. “Sartaj Aziz’s claims are not credible and therefore, meaningless,” she said in an official statement.
Mazari also voiced concern that if Washington is serious about its commitment, then the statement about a provisional halt in drone strikes should have officially come from the US, so that the exact nature of the commitment would be clear with no room for denial.
Furthermore, the PTI demanded the government take a clear position on the US drone campaign in accordance with the all-party conference resolution and keeping the Peshawar High Court’s decision in mind, instead of trying to justify the position of the United States.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2013.