U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are illegal and counterproductive, producing more militants than they eliminate, according to Pakistan’s Washington envoy.
Ambassador Sherry Rehman called the targeted killings a “direct violation of our sovereignty” and international law as well as a red line that Pakistani authorities are constantly urging the U.S. not to cross. While saying that her country has done all it can to eradicate terrorists and their havens, she said more strikes by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s remotely piloted planes may hamper security cooperation.
“We need to drain this swamp,” Rehman said yesterday, referring to pockets of violent extremism in her country. Still, U.S. strikes stir deep resentment and radicalize some, Rehman told journalists hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Her critique of the drone campaign was made two days before John Brennan is set to testify at a Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination as CIA director. Brennan, President Barack Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, is regarded as a leading proponent of ramping up targeted killings of suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Pakistan’s opposition to the drone strikes is the sorest point in its relationship with the U.S., which is critical to the future of neighboring Afghanistan. The U.S. is withdrawing combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and has urged Pakistan to crack down on militants taking shelter inside its borders and to promote a negotiated end to the conflict next door by supporting Afghan peace talks.
Rehman dismissed the view among some in the U.S. that Pakistan’s elected leaders and security services publicly oppose the strikes because they are politically unpopular, while supporting their use against anti-government militants such as Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani branch of the Taliban.
Her country’s military and civilian leaders are “all on the same page” that Pakistan “has to take ownership of all anti-terrorism operations” for the nation’s populace to regard them as legitimate, Rehman said.
In the past four years, the Obama administration conducted six times as many drone strikes in Pakistan as President George W. Bush’s administration did in the previous four years, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news organization. The CIA has used unmanned aerial vehicles in 362 strikes in Pakistan since 2004, 310 under Obama, in which as many as 3,461 people -- including as many as 891 civilians -- have been killed, the group says.
A confidential Justice Department memo that sets out a legal basis for the Obama administration’s targeted killings was published Feb. 4 by NBC News. The document describes the grounds for using drones overseas against terror suspects, including U.S. citizens who are believed to be senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda or related groups.
Rehman today declined to answer when asked if Pakistan’s military would attempt to shoot down the American aircraft.
Still, she made clear that the drone issue is the main sticking point in a relationship that remains delicate after a series of shocks in 2011 -- the diplomatic fracas over the shooting of two Pakistanis by a CIA employee; ire over the U.S. operation against Osama bin Laden without alerting Pakistan; and the accidental killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a U.S. airstrike along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Rehman said Pakistan is committed to assisting the Afghan government in peace talks and is continuing to release Taliban prisoners from Pakistani custody whom the Afghan government believes may serve as intermediaries with insurgents.
“We cannot sit there and pose as guarantors of the process,” Rehman said, even as her government supports Afghanistan in the talks. Nor does Pakistan have the sway to force the Taliban to make peace, she said.
Chafing at the oft-repeated criticism by some in the U.S. that Pakistan hasn’t done enough to rein in militants and eradicate their border havens, Rehman said that there is no active sanctuary for terrorists in Pakistan. She said her country brought 86 percent of its tribal region, where insurgents have sought shelter, under government control by the end of last year, up from 37 percent in 2009.
Pakistani officials have often complained that the U.S. and Afghanistan have failed to secure their side of the border, allowing Pakistani militants to operate from eastern Afghanistan. Rehman said her government operates 800 checkpoints on the Afghan border.
Rehman urged the U.S. to have more sympathy for Pakistan’s sacrifices in the struggle against terrorism, which she said has cost her country 46,000 lives and $78 billion in lost economic opportunity and investment.