American officials have reiterated that the US has no intention of putting an end to drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal region, if a suspected terrorist target falls within range of strike. That creates a diplomatic standoff between the two countries and puts the Pakistan government in an awkward position, now that its Parliament has finalised new guidelines for resetting Pak-US relations, in which a complete halt to drone attacks figures prominently. Though this has been a long-standing demand of Pakistan and its people that Washington has persistently ignored, the decisive moment to redesign the entire gamut of bilateral ties came when Nato helicopters struck at Salala last November, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The Salala incident was grave enough in itself for Islamabad to react, but it became graver in view of the bad feelings that had been building up among the Pakistani public against the US after the Raymond Davis episode killing two Pakistanis in broad daylight and the US SEALs’ raid at Abbottabad. An outraged Pakistani public called for the blocking of supplies transiting through Pakistan into Afghanistan for the Nato/Isaf troops there, in reaction to this repeated violations of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty. Some section of the public, in particular religious groups soon began voicing the demand that under no circumstances should the facility be restored; otherwise, they threatened to physically block the vehicles carrying the supplies. The parliamentary guidelines for the government to negotiate with the US are a watered down version of this demand. They only disallow the passage of weapons through Pakistan to Afghanistan, and tag it with stoppage of drone attacks.
However, US officials have told AP that in the coming weeks and months they would work with Pakistan to find common ground. During the course of talks with Washington, the Pakistan government would have to bring it home to the US Administration that it is dealing with a sovereign country where an elected government is in place. And Parliament represents the opinion of the people of the country, which has made immense sacrifices, losing 40,000 lives and sustaining a massive hit to its economy, not to talk of destruction of property it has suffered. In addition, drones have killed nearly 3,000 men, women and children. Barely 2.2 percent of the victims, according to the US own sources, were the actual targets of strikes. These painful sufferings are proof enough of Pakistan’s sincerity as a key ally in the war on terror. Besides, the drones create a backlash turning peaceful citizens into militants who point guns at not only Pakistan, but also the foreign forces fighting in Afghanistan. This hardly serves the US purpose of winning the hearts and minds of the people. Washington has previously given a cold response to the unanimous resolutions of Parliament and the all parties’ conference opposing these attacks. The US must respect its sensitivities; otherwise, with the widespread opposition to drones in the country, even the friendliest government would have no option but to react in a manner that would worsen relations between the two countries.