Pakistan Wants U.S. Drones Out
By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan for Bloomberg News
Pakistan has told the White House it no longer will permit U.S. drones to use its airspace to attack and collect intelligence on Al-Qaida and other militants, according to officials involved.
Eliminating drone missions would aid the resurgence of extremist groups operating along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, said Peter Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.”
Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, met Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Antony Blinken, on Friday and told him that Pakistan’s political parties have agreed that the drone flights over Pakistan must end, officials involved said.
Pakistan’s sovereignty over its airspace and the civilian casualties that have resulted from drone strikes are emotional issues in Pakistan, where public opinion heavily favors terminating drone missions.
The only chance for a compromise, Pakistani officials said, may be if the United States agrees to share intelligence and coordinate strikes first. The United States has resisted giving information to Pakistan in advance because of fears that some in Pakistan’s security forces might warn the targets of impending strikes.
The drone program has been part of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy in Pakistan since 2004, officials and experts say. The administration authorized 53 drone attacks in 2009 and 117 in 2010, compared with 35 in 2008 under former President George W. Bush, according to Bill Roggio, a U.S. military analyst whose website, the Long War Journal, maintains a database of the campaign.
The drone program is “critical” because it provides better real-time surveillance and reconnaissance than satellite imagery does, Seth Jones, a senior political scientist for the RAND Corp. research institute, said in an interview.
Singer said that “for several years, Pakistan has openly said, ‘How dare you violate our sovereignty,’ but it turned out the CIA was flying from Pakistani bases with Pakistan’s permission.” This time, it’s possible “they really mean it,” after a series of high-profile disputes have damaged relations, Singer said.