Pakistan sees lull in US drone strikes
* Defence body chief says situation will aggravate in case of another strike
ISLAMABAD: The CIA has stopped firing missiles at militants in Pakistan since last month’s deadly NATO airstrikes along the Afghan border so as not to “aggravate” already strained ties with Islamabad, the chief of Senate Defence’s Committee said on Tuesday.
The 33-day pause is the longest since the programme began in 2004, according to The Long War Journal, a website that tracks the strikes.
Tensions between Pakistan and the United States are at their lowest ebb in years following the November 26 airstrikes at the Pakistan Army border outpost that killed 24 soldiers. The Pakistani Army responded by closing its border with Afghanistan to trucks carrying US and NATO war supplies. It is demanding a complete review of its relationship with Washington.
Javed Ashraf Qazi, the defence committee chief, said he believed the pause in attacks was because the US “does not want to aggravate the situation any further.”
Still, Qazi, a former army general who gets high-level briefings because of his position on the committee, said he believed that if the United States had a “high-level” target in its sights then, “I think they would go ahead” and launch a strike. “If they do so, the results could get worse,” he said.
Pakistan’s government and army have long publicly protested the US drone programme. The attacks are very unpopular among ordinary Pakistanis, who generally regard them as an unacceptable breach of sovereignty.
American officials do not comment on the drone programme in public.
The Long War Journal quoted an anonymous American official as saying the pause was because another attack “push US-Pakistan relations past the point of no return.”
The CIA drone programme began in 2004 to target al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions along the Afghan border, but the frequency of the attacks began increasing in 2008. There have been around 60 this year, significantly less than in 2010. American officials say privately that the drones are a key weapon in reducing the threat from militants in the border area.
There have been at least two other pauses in the drone programme that have coincided with tense tie between Islamabad and Pakistan, including earlier this year when Pakistan was detaining CIA contractor Raymond Davis after he killed two people in the eastern city of Lahore.
US officials had previously denied that the two pauses earlier this year were due to tensions with Pakistan, and instead cited operational issues with the unmanned aircraft, to include “weather.” There have been significant pauses during that seasonal time period in previous years.
But one US official told The Long War Journal that the two long pauses earlier this year were indeed related to political problems with Pakistan encountered during those time frames.
“If it isn’t clear by now, the airstrikes targeting al Qaeda and allied movements have been constrained by deteriorating relations (with Pakistan),” a senior US official said. app/daily times monitor