Halt to drone strikes seen linked to Raymond Davis | Pakistan Today

Halt to drone strikes seen linked to Raymond Davis

ISLAMABAD – The United States has halted drone attacks on militants along Pakistan’s western border in a development analysts believe is linked to the attempts to secure the release of a jailed US consular employee. After months of frequent strikes from unmanned US aircraft on militant hideouts in tribal areas, reports of covert strikes have gone quiet for over three weeks.
Many analysts believe Washington has stopped the attacks to avoid further inflaming anti-American fury in Pakistan just as it pressures a vulnerable Islamabad government to release Raymond Davis, imprisoned after shooting two Pakistanis last month during what he said was an attempted robbery. “This in itself raises a number of questions regarding the US Pakistan strategy as it struggles to balance counter terrorism … with its public diplomacy,” said Simbal Khan, an analyst with the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.
The decision to halt a campaign that is the centerpiece of US efforts to root out militants launching attacks on its soldiers in Afghanistan also raises questions, Khan said, about how chasing after terrorist and al Qaeda targets could be suspended to save the fate of a single US national.As tempers fray over Davis, who the United States insist is shielded by diplomatic immunity, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari is loathe to risk losing billions of dollars in US aid or doing permanent damage to ties with a key Western ally.
The strikes have already fuelled anger against the government among those who see the attacks as a violation of sovereignty and blame them for the death of innocent civilians. Local leaders are often the ones seen at fault. According to the Long War Journal, a leading military blog, the current pause in drone strikes is one of the longest since the United States intensified its drone campaign in 2008. The New America Foundation, which tracks the strikes, estimated they have killed some 2,189 people from 2004 through January of this year.
Of those, 1,754 were reportedly militants. The last reported strike was Jan 23, when intelligence officials said a US drone aircraft fired two missiles targeting a vehicle and a house in the North Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border, killing at least four militants. Another missile shortly afterward was reported to kill two militants on a motorbike.
While the drone strikes have killed al Qaeda and Taliban figures, some question their success when many senior militants are living in cities like Quetta or Karachi that Pakistan has made off-limits to strikes. Yet they are now a key part of the US-Pakistan security alliance, forged in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks but long frayed by US complaints that Pakistan has not done enough against militants that don’t directly threaten the government.
Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, said the drone strikes were becoming counterproductive because they were breeding more opponents of the state. The shooting in a city known as the heart of Pakistan appears to have galvanised Pakistanis in a way that the drone attacks, in remote areas invisible to most Pakistanis, have not.

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