Monday, July 16, 2012

Negotiating with the US: Pakistan offers new drone-use mechanism

ISLAMABAD: With fissures in their bilateral ties quickly being healed, Pakistan has offered the US a new mechanism encompassing ‘surveillance’ of targeted operations against wanted militants as an alternative to drone strikes in the country’s tribal regions.

The plan, as crafted by Islamabad, involves both the identification of targets by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the tribal areas and swapping of information with the Pakistani security agencies. The latter will then deal with the situation accordingly, said officials familiar with the development.

“To ensure that Pakistan acts on the information provided by the CIA, the US can use any mechanism to monitor our operation on the ground,” revealed a senior figure of the country’s security establishment.

“They (US) can even use drones for this purpose,” the official explained. However, he clarified that no foreign boots on the ground would be allowed for surveillance.

The mechanism is currently figuring in behind-the-scene discussions between Pakistan and the US, he said.
The idea also seeks to dispel the growing perception in Washington that Islamabad is playing a ‘double game’ in the ‘war on terror’.

He disclosed that both sides had coordinated initial drone attacks when the CIA first launched its campaign back in 2004. Another official remarked that “the CIA later took a solo flight under the assumption that Pakistan is playing a double game”.

The official said Pakistan expects a breakthrough in its ongoing negotiations with the US on finding a ‘mutually acceptable’ alternative to the CIA-piloted drone campaign.

The optimism stems from the fact that until now, Pakistan had never offered the US any serious alternative to predator strikes.

The reason, the official cited, was a tacit understanding between Pakistan and the US to use pilotless drones in the rugged terrain along the Pak-Afghan border where key al Qaeda figures are believed to have found refuge.

Perhaps for the first time, officials also acknowledged that drone attacks eliminated several key militants who posed an equal threat to both Pakistan and the US.

In a candid admission, one official went to the extent of saying that collateral damage figures compiled by independent human rights organisations in the drone attacks were somewhat exaggerated.

However, the official said the government ‘had’ to oppose the drones campaign due to the widely-held public opinion that drones violate Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.

“That is why we have offered this alternative to the US – because we (Pakistan) want to become part of the system rather than being isolated,” he maintained.

However, officials did not give any timeframe for a breakthrough on the stalemate over drones, which the US believes are critical to eliminating high-value targets associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Given that it’s election year in the US, many experts are sceptical that the administration of US President Barack Obama would agree on any drastic changes in their drones’ campaign.

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