ISLAMABAD: Pakistani officials today condemned the US for carrying out its first drone strike in the country since parliament demanded they end two weeks ago, but qualified that it should be seen in light of the presence of Islamist militants on Pakistani soil.
The mixed signals indicate the delicate tightrope the government is trying to walk with the American attacks. They are very unpopular in Pakistan, so opposing them makes sense for political reasons. But the government does not seem to want the strikes to torpedo attempts to patch up ties with the US, which could free up over $1 billion in American military aid.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the strikes which killed three suspected militants in the North Waziristan tribal area Sunday “are in total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations.”
“The government of Pakistan has consistently maintained that drone attacks are violative of its territorial integrity and sovereignty,” it said.
Pakistan’s parliament demanded an end to the strikes in mid-April when it approved new guidelines for the country’s relationship with the US.
Washington had hoped that parliament’s decision would pave the way for Pakistan to reopen supply lines for NATO troops in Afghanistan that were closed in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops.
The drone attacks have been a stumbling block. But Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani struck a moderate tone today when he seemed to link the strikes to the continued ability of Islamist militants fighting the government and international forces in Afghanistan to operate on Pakistan’s territory.
He pointed out that the resolution passed by parliament also stipulated that foreign fighters must be expelled from the country and Pakistani soil should not be used to attack other countries.
“So, when we plan a strategy with the US, all these aspects would be discussed,” said Gilani.
The US has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan target Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who use its territory to launch cross-border attacks.
The Pakistani military has refused, claiming its forces are stretched too thin by operations against homegrown militants battling the government. However, many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target militants with whom it has historical ties because they could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
The drone issue is complicated by the fact that some elements of the Pakistani government, including the military, have helped the US carry out strikes in the past.