The Secretary Defence Lieutenant General (Retd) Asif Yasin Malik had appeared before the Senate’s Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production on Monday to brief the committee members on Pakistan’s defence budget and the role of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in politics. While some media reports quoted the secretary as informing the committee that Shamsi airfield was still functional and drone attacks were carried out from there, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) denied these reports saying that the former general was misquoted in media, adding: “We consider it (drones) a clear violation of international law and Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan has very recently demanded the end of drone strikes during US envoy’s visit to Pakistan. Conjectures should not be projected in the media but facts,” a rebuttal from MoD said.
Talking to TheNation, noted social scientist and formed United Nations diplomat Atle Hetland said Pakistan is not in position to publicly denounce the drone attacks due to the ‘strings attached’ to the issue. “There are a lot of strings attached. Several leading commanders of al Qaeda and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan have been taken out in drones. Secondly, the unsaid approval of the drones campaign is perhaps the only thing that has thus far prevented Pakistani forces from landing into North Waziristan to take out terrorists,” he said.
“Personally I don’t approve of violating international law to launch surgical strikes because they are resulting in collateral damage to cause civilian loss. But Washington and Pakistan wouldn’t mind it so long as their interests are taken care of,” he said.
The latest drone attack was reported in South Waziristan on Wednesday that reportedly killed five militants.
A former US diplomat, now serving in an international body, believed the only solution to the drone attacks is NWA operation. “My assessment: The only answer to drones is NWA operation. Islamabad’s resentment against getting tough on Haqqanis has just widened the gulf of mistrust it has long shared with Washington. And, I believe, it would keep widening until Islamabad starts ‘taking care’ of Taliban, good or bad,” he said commenting on Pakistan’s establishment-coined analogy of ‘good Taliban and bad Taliban.’
Last year, following the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s arrival in Pakistan, the two countries had reportedly reached an informal yet renewed understanding on drone strikes that allowed the CIA to intensify drone attacks in Waziristan region. However, in the aftermath of Salala attack episode, the intelligence cooperation between Pakistan and the US had disrupted that saw an evident halt in drone strikes amidst credible reports that terrorists were regrouping in Pakistan’s tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
Last month, prominent American newspaper Wall Street Journal had reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would intimate Pakistan’s ISI every month about its drones plan through a fax. Pakistan’s Foreign Office, although, denied the said report, the MoD or General Headquarters (GHQ) did not react to the story.
According to WSJ, the fax would outline the boundaries of the airspace the drones would use-large areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border referred to as flight ‘boxes’ because they are shaped like three-dimensional rectangles in the sky. There was no mention of specific targets, the said report stated.
“The ISI would send back a fax acknowledging receipt. The return messages stopped short of endorsing drone strikes. But in US eyes the fax response combined with the continued clearing of airspace to avoid midair collisions-a process known as ‘de-confliction’-represented Pakistan’s tacit consent to the programme.”
“After the May 2011 bin Laden raid, which the US did without Pakistani permission or knowledge, the ISI stopped acknowledging receipt of US drone notifications, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. Replies were stopped on the order of the ISI chief at that time, said an official briefed on the matter,” the report said.