ISLAMABAD, April 13: Pakistan lodged a protest with the United States on Wednesday over the Angoor Adda drone attack, describing the continued drone raids as a ‘core irritant’ in counter-terrorism cooperation. An unusual aspect of the remonstration was that it was the first time in a couple of years that a démarche was made on a missile strike targeting militants — an indication that Islamabad may be revisiting its tacit tolerance of hits by pilotless predators on militant sites.

Military sources confirmed to Dawn that those killed and injured in the drone attack on Wednesday were Afghans.

“Pakistan strongly condemns the drone attack at Angoor Adda today. We have repeatedly said that such attacks are counter-productive and only contribute to strengthening the hands of terrorists,” Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told US Ambassador Cameron Munter while lodging the protest with him.

Foreign Office spokesperson Tehmina Janjua, however, emphasised that Mr Munter had not been summoned and he was at the Foreign Office to discuss bilateral issues when he was handed over the démarche. Drone attacks, usually denounced using clichés like ‘unacceptable’, ‘violation of sovereignty’ and ‘flagrant violation of humanitarian norms and law’, were probably for the first time identified as a core irritant in counter-terrorism cooperation.

“Drone attacks have become a core irritant in the counter-terror campaign,” a statement by the Foreign Office said.

The timing of the latest attack is also being seen as meaningful because it took place at a time when ISI chief Gen Shuja Pasha was on his way home from Washington after talks with his counterpart, CIA Director Leon Panetta. Gen Pasha had called for limiting the scope of drone attacks to North Waziristan as a precondition for reviving the stalled counter-terrorism cooperation.

The CIA-ISI cooperation has been on hold since January when CIA operative Raymond Davis fatally shot two youths in Lahore. The two agencies were close to resolving their operational differences last month (Davis release being part of that deal), but drone attacks on a jirga one day after the release killed the prospects for a rapprochement.

However, fresh efforts were made to normalise the ties and Gen Pasha’s visit to Washington was an effort in that direction.

It is not yet clear what impact the latest drone strike will have on what was described by Ambassador Munter a couple of days ago as ‘renewal in ties’.

Although drone strikes have been unpopular with the public, military commanders and civilian leadership started acknowledging their usefulness in targeting militants.

The General Officer Commanding 7-Division, Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood, had last month told reporters that “myths and rumours” about US predator strikes and casualty figures were many, but it was a reality that many of those killed in these strikes were “hardcore elements”, a sizable number of them foreigners.

If anything the latest protest indicates is that problems in bilateral ties may have compelled the civilian leadership and the military to probably rethink their tacit endorsement of drone attacks on militant targets.

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