“The Americans insist that drones are integral part of their counter-terrorism operations being best suited for this purpose,” a senior Pakistani diplomat said.— AP (File Photo)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United States have begun exploring various options for joint ownership of drone attacks against militant targets in the tribal belt after the US flatly refused to stop the predator strikes.

“We are striving to have genuine co-ownership of the drone operations,” a senior Pakistani diplomat, who has been regularly briefed on the ongoing behind-the-scenes negotiations between Islamabad and Washington, told Dawn on Thursday.

The various proposals being discussed include a real-time intelligence sharing and advance notification of drone strikes.

A number of sources in Islamabad and Washington confirmed that the US had refused to end drone strikes. This has been conveyed to Pakistani authorities on more than one occasion over the past few weeks, they said.

A Pakistani proposal for using F-16s against militant targets has been rejected as an unsuitable alternative.

“The Americans insist that drones are integral part of their counter-terrorism operations being best suited for this purpose,” the diplomat said.

This development has been accompanied by a softening of the position taken by the government and parliament on the issue of drone attacks.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, while outlining the negotiation agenda at the DCC meeting over the weekend, omitted drone attacks.

“Negotiation on new terms and conditions for resumption of the Ground Lines of Communication (more commonly referred to as Nato supply routes), joint counter-terrorism cooperation, greater inter-agency coordination, transparency in US diplomatic and intelligence footprint in Pakistan, strengthening of border security and non-use of Pakistan’s territory for attacks on other countries and expulsion of all foreign fighters from Pakistan’s territory, are our fundamental policy parameters,” Mr Gilani said while listing ‘policy parameters’ for re-engagement with the US.

The revised draft of new guidelines for relations with the US adopted by parliament also took a softer approach to the issue by just reiterating demand for cessation of the drone attacks – the long-held principled position, but avoided its linkage with resumption and continuity of Nato ground supply routes.

Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan tacitly accepted the shift.

“Pakistan’s relations with the United States are very important. We want to address all issues on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest… at the end of the day, the two countries will have to find some mutually acceptable grounds as to how we want to move forward,” Mr Khan said.

US Embassy spokesman Mark Stroh, when contacted, said: “We are ready to fully engage on full breadth and scope of the recommendations. We are finding areas of mutual interest for moving forward.”Formal negotiations on new terms of engagement are expected to begin later this month with the visit of US Special Envoy Marc Grossman. But, an accord would be finalised during Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to Washington expected in the first week of May.

Another Pakistani official denied that there had been a sudden change in the position on drone attacks. He recalled that the envoys conference, convened for providing input to the parliamentary review process in December, also did not ask for stopping drone attacks.

He, however, said that despite the apparent settlement to discuss co-ownership of drone, apprehensions persisted in Islamabad and strategists thought that drone did not chime with overall reconciliation strategy.

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