Pakistan is ratcheting up pressure on the United States to end drone strikes in its territory. It has taken its struggle even to the United Nations. Pakistan’s UN ambassador Masood Khan told a UN General Assembly rights committee debate that in Pakistan, “all drone strikes are a chilling reminder that reprisal strikes by terrorists are around the corner.’ Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the same thing when he visited the US President Barack Obama in Washington a few days ago. Sharif’s request for stopping these aerial attacks comes at a time when Pakistan-US relations are showing signs of improvement. The relations suffered severe strains following the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan where he was in hiding. Also, the US is pulling out of Afghanistan, which has helped the thaw in relations as both sides need to discuss issues of common interest on the future of Afghanistan.
Though Washington has been severely mauled for its use of drones in several countries, it has refused to budge so far from its official policy. A US diplomat at the UN meeting highlighted an Obama speech in May in which he said the drone attacks on Al Qaeda and the Taliban were ‘necessary, legal and just.’ But what is more important is how serious Islamabad is in its demand to stop these strikes. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that while top Pakistani officials denounce the drone programme, they have secretly endorsed it for years and are routinely given classified briefings on targets and casualties. The Post, citing secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos, said that markings on some documents indicated they were prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center so they could be shown to Pakistani officials. The documents discuss strikes that killed dozens of alleged Al Qaeda operatives and in which they say no civilians were killed.
There is no doubt that drones have been counter-productive in Pakistan. As Pakistan’s UN envoy said, they have only caused more terrorism and emboldened the Taliban and caused an increase in public hostility towards the US and the government in Islamabad. But the secret Pakistani support, if it’s true, shows that the drones are achieving some results, or the government is benefiting from a quid pro quo with the US government. In diplomacy, it’s possible that governments will take one stance in public and another in secret due to the sensitivity of issues. For the same reason, there is a need for more clarity from the Pakistani government on drones.
Whatever the official stance of any country, it’s time for Washington to stop these aerial attacks for the simple reason that civilians are getting killed. Some other ways need to be found to defeat terrorists•