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US Secretary, Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano shaking hand with Federal Minister for Interior Pakistan, Senator A. Rehman Malik prior to a meeting. — Photo by INP

WASHINGTON, Oct 7: “If we are given drones, we will use them responsibly as we used the F-16s,” said Interior Minister Rehman Malik, as the US media reported on Sunday that Pakistan appeared to be changing its position on the strikes.

Mr Malik, who left for Pakistan on Saturday night after a series of meetings in Washington, told reporters he had conveyed Pakistan’s concerns over the drones to senior US officials, although he did not say if he asked them to stop the strikes.

Like Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, the interior minister also said that Pakistan had no objection to using drones against militants, it disagreed with the method.

Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf’s march to tribal areas to protest against the strikes has revived the issue in the United States as more than a dozen mainstream media outlets highlighted it in their Sunday editions.

America’s largest radio network, NPR, reported that until recently the US sent target sets to Islamabad and the Pakistanis would respond, sometimes offering more information.

But this “collaborative” arrangement, according to NPR, started to change after the US raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad without informing Pakistan.

‘Now, when US officials send targeting information, the Pakistanis merely acknowledge it, without the back and forth,” the report said.

Ashley Deeks, a former State Department lawyer and now a professor at University of Virginia Law School, told NPR that this could still be construed as “tacit consent”.

But she said that Pakistan could take a number of steps that could unwind the drone programme. For example, it could raise a formal complaint at the United Nations, stop clearing air space, as it still does, or it could also just shoot down a drone.

“But Pakistan hasn’t done any of those things,” the report noted.

The United States, however, would still have an option to continue the strikes despite Islamabad’s objection: the self-defence theory.

“This theory basically says that because the US is targeting groups in Pakistan linked to the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan, the US claims the right to target them. Even without consent,” NPR explained. “The argument leaves Pakistan without much say in the matter.”

But US peace activists, some of whom also participated in Imran Khan’s rally, reject this argument.

Ten activists were arrested this weekend at the gate of the Hancock Field in DeWitt, New York, while protesting against the drones.

They were charged with trespassing and issued appearance tickets.

The protest was conducted by the Coalition to Ground the Drones and End Wars and was timed to coincide with Imran Khan’s rally.

The New York Air National Guard base at Hancock Field is the home of the 174th Attack Wing, which operates MQ-9 Reaper drones. It’s been the target of protesters several times in the past.

“I am very upset over what our government is doing,” said Mary Snyder, a spokesperson for the protesters. “The bombs dropped from drones often not only kill the person targeted but people around them who are not targeted,” she said.

“It’s not in our nature as Americans to be treating innocent people in this way.”