WASHINGTON: Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman said that Pakistan has not okayed any American drone strikes on its territory in exchange for Washington's apology over the Salala attacks and continues to deem unilateral unmanned aerial attacks as violation of the international law.
The ambassador told CNN what last week’s expression of remorse by the United States, over killing of Pakistani soldiers in November 26, 2011 in American cross-border attacks on the Salala posts, had done is that it has opened the way for constructive discussions on bilateral relations.
“No, we have not agreed on anything. In fact, those conversations are yet to happen. As I said, the apology has opened the space for an opportunity where we can have constructive conversations that 'might be, might, that might be to the satisfaction of both sides.' Right now, we have given no go-ahead at all,” Ms Rehman told the American news channel's Christiana Amanpour in an interview.
The Pakistani envoy, who, according to CNN played an instrumental role in resolving the dispute over Salala attacks, reiterated serious concerns the Pakistani people and Islamabad have over drone strike on its territory.
“There’s no question of it. We also consider it, the drone program, we consider it counterproductive to all our goals in the sense that it radicalizes for the, it radicalizes foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region. And what we see, really, is that increasingly Pakistan is feared as a predatory footprint.”
“The concerns over drones 'can't just be'brushed aside,” she added.
When Aamanpour pointedly asked the ambassador if the United States is in violation of international law when it conducts drone strikes on Pakistani territory, Ms Rehman responded, “This is something that Pakistan has consistently said.”
The Pakistani ambassador drew attention to the need for acknowledgement of her country’s huge sacrifices and successes in the fight against terror.
“We need to understand that certainly Pakistan is looking for some amount of strategic sympathy in the losses we have incurred over the last 10 years. We didn't have more than one suicide bombing before 2001”.
“So it’s not that we are saying that all our troubles orb volatility, even within parts of Pakistan, have come as a result of joining force with the United States and Nato. But much of it has. I think there needs to 'be less tough talk in public.”
Ambassador Rehman also pointed out the need to bridge the lingering trust deficit between the two countries. “There’s a trust gap, also, a trust deficit that you know about 'between' the two countries, and we must work to build that, because both people are quite able to work together when left on their own.”
“It’s when we get into the complexities of, you know, for instance, drones, that the whole drone programme is seen as, it tests the relationship at every juncture. And we honestly feel that there are ‘better’ ways now of eliminating al Qaeda, which has been done with our help. And we have been doing that consistently. We’re the heavy lifters in this relationship.”
Although, the drones may appear as a precise tool to target militants, the damage they do in radicalizing people and challenging the bilateral relationship far outweigh the benefits.
“While it may be seen as a tool that is absolutely precise and reduces collateral damage, I think that it is, it has far outweighed its, the damage it does really doesn't outweigh its benefits.”
“So it is something that is not only radicalizing large swaths of the population and it is also seen as predatory. It's seen as against the law. And it continues to challenge a relationship that can actually accomplish a lot more on the ground than we are doing today in eliminating terrorism.”
Regarding Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor employed by the CIA in hunt for Osama bin Laden before the al Qaeda chief’s death in an American cross-border operation last year, the ambassador said the doctor had no knowledge that the goal that he was working for, he knew he was contracting with a foreign intelligence agency, but he had no knowledge that he was seeking to bring Osama bin Laden in, number one.
“So let’s not lionize him.”
The envoy said Dr Afridi was contracting with many terrorist outfits. He was even kidnapped by one, and he was in many transactions on the ground, all over the place.
He is one of many such people who have been convicted for such actions.
“His conviction is really for contracting with one of the terrorist groups that is waging or attempting to attack our soldiers. “We’ve had several beheaded recently.”
Pakistan, the ambassador said, would have considered a feather in its cap if it had been able to get Osama bin Laden. “We do not want to play host to terrorists, international terrorists.”