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November 10, 2013

Govt says no written agreement found to allow drone strikes

 
November 10, 2013

ISLAMABAD: After 17 days, the federal government has finally admitted that during the recent Nawaz-Obama meeting Washington had simply refused to accept Islamabad’s half-hearted request to halt drone strikes in Pakistan during peace talks with the Taliban militants.
Officials have also confirmed now that neither was the US warning that it will attack Hakimullah Mehsud, if he was found, passed on to the ex-Taliban chief nor was Olson’s threat raised by PM Nawaz with President Obama because of advice from the establishment.
Responding to questions sent to him by The News — asking why, if Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had raised the drone strike issue with US President Obama and protested over these attacks, were the drone strikes not stopped and the issue not mentioned in the joint statement issued by the White House — senior PML-N leader and Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid admitted: “The issue of drones was not mentioned in the joint statement issued by the White House after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and US President Obama meeting, as the joint statement only contained the points over which both sides agreed.”
During the joint press talk with US president Obama on October 23, Nawaz stated that he had raised the “issue of drones”.
According to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, before PM Nawaz’s US visit he requested American Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson that the US should not carry out drone strikes till the conclusion of peace process. The ambassador had assured of no drone strikes, except for targeting Hakimullah Mehsud, if he was found.
Nisar said on national TV that when he told the US ambassador that targeting Hakimullah will sabotage the peace process, Olson suggested that Nawaz Sharif should raise the issue with Obama.
Nisar also said the PM was advised that droning Hakimullah should not be raised with Obama.
Now officials are confused that if the US has already conveyed to the government in Islamabad

not to carry out any drone strikes till the conclusion of peace talks except targeting Taliban Chief Hakimullah Mehsud, and the PM was advised not to take up the Hakimullah issue, what was it that the PM discussed with the US president about the drones.
According to Pervaiz Rashid the issue was discussed but was not made part of the joint statement, as the US had not agreed to Pakistan’s request of halting drone strikes.
However, according to Chaudhry Nisar, the US had already agreed and the ambassador had conveyed that drone strikes on other TTP leaders will not take place except Hakimullah Mehsud.
Nisar says after the drone killed the Taliban chief on the eve of dialogue, sabotaging the peace process, Pakistan had summoned the US ambassador who was to be served with a demarche.
It is ironical that official press briefings also available on official the US web state.gov show that the US made no mention of any protest lodged by the PML-N government after the drone strike.
To make things clearer, The News approached Meghan Gregonis, spokesperson for the US embassy in Pakistan and asked if the US ambassador had been served with a demarche when he was summoned to the Foreign Office. She replied: “Yes, the MFA did call the ambassador to a meeting on Saturday, Nov. 2. I wouldn’t use the term demarche. Best regards, Meghan.”
After private discussions with many top PML-N leaders, it becomes clear that the government has no strategy and plan to get Pakistan out of the decade-long menace of terrorism through the dialogue process and to avoid more bloodshed and war.
Senator Pervaiz Rashid, however, vehemently defends his government saying there must not be any ambiguity in the PML-N stance on drones.
“We have raised the issue of drones in the UN General Assembly, opposed drone strikes and termed them against the sovereignty of Pakistan,” he added.
A recent UN investigation report on drone strikes on Pakistan for evaluating the fact whether these strikes are war crimes or not, carried out by Ben Emmerson — UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism — released three weeks ago held that there is ‘strong evidence’ that Pakistan’s military approved of drone strikes between 2004 and 2008 and in the presence of such approvals drones could not be termed war crimes.
The report suggested Islamabad to withdraw any such past approvals so that the issue may be termed ‘war-crimes’.
However, the PML-N government has simply put this suggestion in the dustbin on the pretext that “there is no such approval in writing”.
A former Pakistan ambassador to the US has also confirmed that in 2008 Pakistan signed some documents, allowing drone strikes.
The spirit of the UN report was that the PML-N government may write to the US that if there was any approval in the past as suggested even by the UN, the same is being withdrawn. But, the PML-N government is keeping mum for obvious reasons.
On the question whether the PML-N government will withdraw any such approval in writing, Senator Pervaiz Rashid said: “I am unaware of the UN report of Ben Emmerson. I can only comment after seeing this report.”
When asked if the PML-N government had probed the issue of any past approval to the US to carry out drone strikes in Pakistan, Senator Pervaiz Rashid said: “Whichever official the PML-N government has asked about any past approval or consent given to the US for conducting drone strikes in Pakistan has denied knowledge of anything in writing in this regard.”
When asked if the PML-N government had properly investigated this issue and checked with the government, the presidency, the Prime Minister Office and the Foreign Office record, Pervaiz Rashid said: “In fact, we couldn’t find out anything in writing regarding permission to the US to carry out drone strikes in the Tribal Areas.”
To a question whether the government has checked with the Pakistan Army and ISI and checked their record, Pervaiz Rashid said: “Yes, whichever official we asked stated that there is nothing in writing.”
Does that mean there was some verbal approval or something like that? Pervaiz Rashid said: “I can’t say that. The question should be asked from ‘everyone’. I will only say that we couldn’t find anything in writing regarding approval to carry out drone strikes”.
The crux of all these discussions with many people was that keeping aside the public statements and conflicting claims, basically the government wants to move ahead with its relations with the US.
Some officials will keep on using hard language against the US and others will play the good cop, but the status quo will not change.

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