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Sherry slams drones ahead of CIA talks

July 28, 2012

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Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, speaks during an interview in Islamabad July 5, 2012. — Photo by Reuters

ASPEN: Pakistan's ambassador to the United States is calling for an end to CIA drone strikes ahead of an intelligence summit in Washington between the two countries expected next week.

In a frank debate on Friday with White House war adviser Douglas Lute, Ambassador Sherry Rehman said the drone attacks succeeded in damaging al Qaeda but are now only serving to recruit new militants. The two were speaking to an audience at the Aspen Security Forum.

''I am not saying drones have not assisted in the war against terror, but they have diminishing rate of returns,'' Sherry said, speaking by video teleconference from Washington.

''We will seek an end to drone strikes and there will be no compromise on that,'' she added.    Pakistan's spy chief, Lt. Gen. Zaheer ul Islam, is expected to reiterate the demand in his first meeting with CIA Director David Petraeus, at CIA headquarters in Virginia, next week.

Lute would not comment on the drone program, but US officials have said privately that the program will continue because Pakistan has proved incapable or unwilling to target militants the US considers dangerous.

A long-sought US apology to Pakistan over a deadly border incident cleared the way to restart counterterrorism talks, in which Pakistani officials say the US also will be asked to feed intelligence gathered by the pilot less aircraft to Pakistani jets and ground forces so they can target militants.

While neither side expects much progress, officials from both countries see the return to dialogue as a chance to repair a relationship dented by a series of incidents that damaged trust on both sides.

US officials remain angry over what they say is Pakistan's support of Taliban groups, including the militant Haqqani network, who shelter in Pakistan's tribal areas and attack troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Sherry Rehman defended Pakistan's arrest of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who has been sentenced to more than three decades in prison for aiding the CIA in tracking down bin Laden by conducting a vaccine program in the military town where the terrorist mastermind turned out to be hiding.

US lawmakers have threatened to halt millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan if Afridi is not released, in recognition of his contribution to helping track down bin Laden. Afridi is appealing his sentence. ''He had no clue he was looking for Osama bin Laden,'' Sherry countered. ''He was contracting with a foreign intelligence agency.''

She added that Afridi's actions put thousands of children at risk because some vaccine programs had to be ended after Pakistani aid workers were targeted by the Taliban.

She also dismissed as ''outrageous'' a claim by some lawmakers that Pakistan is harboring al Qaeda or other militants who intend to harm the US.

She said Pakistan's army was working hard to combat the militants, including reporting 52 times to Nato in recent months when militants were spotted crossing into Afghan territory.

''Pakistan is maxed out on the international border with Afghanistan,'' she said of Pakistani efforts.

''Sovereignty has privileges but also comes with responsibilities,'' countered Lute who called for Pakistan to step up its efforts and to cease ''hedging its bets'' by supporting the Afghan Taliban.

The two did agree, however, that Pakistan could help broker an eventual peace deal with the Taliban.