‘Pakistan mulls downing US drones’
Daily Times Monitor
LAHORE: Pakistani officials are urging the incoming Obama administration to stop air attacks on Pakistani territory and are even hinting that they might shoot down US drones in its airspace, according to a report published in the Washington Times (WT).
The report said US forces based in Afghanistan had carried out around 25 strikes this year, most of them by drones, in the Pakistani border region. However, a November 19 attack was carried out in Bannu beyond the Tribal Areas, in the settled areas of Pakistan. After the strike on NWFP’s Bannu district, the government summoned US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson to the Foreign Ministry and lodged a formal protest.
Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Sadiq said the US ambassador was told that the attacks violated Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Pakistani officials have publicly discussed a military option.
Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed said last week that if the government decided to shoot down the pilotless aircraft, the military was fully capable of intercepting them.
“The air force is ready for any type of air defence,” the air chief marshal was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.
On September 23, a drone crashed inside Pakistani territory near Angoor Ada in South Waziristan Agency.
The Pakistan Army said the drone crashed because of a technical malfunction. However, residents in Angoor Ada claimed they shot down the drone.
US officials have told the Washington Times that Pakistan has given tacit approval for attacks that are confined to the Tribal Areas and do not involve US ground forces.
A Pakistani official, who asked not to be named, said “these are very sensitive matters” and that the target had to be “a very important asset” to justify an attack.
In public, Pakistani officials vehemently deny any bargain with Washington.
Analyst: According to the report, Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Pakistan had agreed to a strategy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it came to US attacks. Denying it has given permission is “essential to the government’s survival”, she said. “Otherwise they are allowing themselves to be walked over as well as bombed.”
The danger, she said, is that “this is a moving target”. Though US intelligence appears to be getting better, there is always the chance of civilian casualties.
She predicted that the incoming Obama administration would continue the policy, noting that tracking Al Qaeda suspects in Pakistan was “the one issue on which (US president-elect Barack Obama) sounded more hawkish than [Senator John] McCain.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has told parliament that he hoped Obama would change the policy once he assumed office.
However, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad said he doubted that would be the case.
“It will be childish to expect anything from Obama,” he said. “One person cannot change the US policies; rather, it needs a gradual process.
“Neo-conservatives, Zionists and other extremist groups are very powerful and influence the US foreign policy. Obama will do whatever the neocons want him to do,” he said. Pakistan People’s Party Senator Anwar Beg said the attacks were destabilising the government.
“Drone attacks must stop immediately,” he said. “There is no time to wait until January 20.”