WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States on Tuesday blasted the Obama administration for continued drone strikes in Fata, calling the violation a “red line” that should not be crossed.
At a breakfast meeting with the Christian Science Monitor staff, Sherry Rehman said that drones strikes were “a clear violation of our sovereignty and a violation of international law” that threatened stable relations between the two governments.
She rejected persistent media reports that Pakistan tacitly approved the strikes while denouncing them publicly as untrue. “Let me assure you that since we have been in government, there has been no quiet complicity, no question of wink and nod,” she said.
The United States has launched hundreds of drone strikes in Fata, killing dozens of militant leaders. While Pakistan appreciates the elimination of some key terrorists, it says that the drones also have killed a large number of innocent civilians.
Pakistan warns that the civilian deaths are counter-productive as they increase public sympathy for the militants and wants the United States to stop the strikes.
The drone strategy “creates more potential terrorists on the ground and militants on the ground instead of taking them out,” the ambassador said. “We need to drain the swamp, but instead it is radicalising people.”
Ambassador Rehman complained that the United States had failed to appreciate Pakistan’s domestic terrorism problems and counter-terrorism operations, which have cost nearly 50,000 military and civilian lives and billions of dollars in expenditures and lost income over the past decade.
She said Pakistan was increasingly concerned that the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave “the kind of detritus we were left to deal with” after the last US departure from the region in the early 1990s.
But the ambassador also noted that the United States and Pakistan had overcome years of “chronic distrust and periods of crisis management” and Pakistan was now looking for an enduring, sustainable relationship with the US, based on mutual respect and cooperation.
As over a dozen senior US journalists grilled her on Pakistan’s record in the war against terror, the envoy reminded them that her country faced multiple challenges, including the war against militancy, a historic transition to democracy and its first constitutional transfer of power.
She also upheld her government’s criticism of the Academy Award nominated movie “Zero Dark Thirty”, calling it “very zero, very dark”.
The film depicts the CIA-led raid on a compound in Abbottabad where US commandos killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Ambassador Rehman said Pakistan was fully engaged with the US and their dialogue groups were working across a range of structured issues on which there was cooperation.
She denied the allegation that Pakistan was obstructing the peace process in Afghanistan, and said that Islamabad was willing to do all it could to “support all tracks that Kabul proposes”.
Pakistan had no favourites in Afghanistan and did not want to interfere in the internal dynamics of an Afghan-led peace process, she said.
The ambassador said that Islamabad actively participated in all meetings of the core group, which includes the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
She praised incoming Secretary of State John Kerry as somebody who “brings experience and knowledge” of her country to the table.
Referring to Mr Kerry’s statement at his confirmation hearing last week, she urged Washington to give her country credit for joining in the anti-terror campaign of the last 11 years and helping to stop insurgents from crossing the border into her country.