US ‘curtails drone strikes in Pakistan to facilitate Taliban talks’

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  • US officials say Pakistani govt requested Obama administration to halt strikes
  • Senior Republican lawmaker assails Obama for tightening guidelines under which lethal drone strikes are permitted

The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to a report in the Washington Post.

“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one US official said. The administration on Wednesday indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior al Qaeda targets if they become available and move to thwart any direct imminent threat to US persons.

Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant US air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.

The current pause follows a November strike that killed Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud just days before an initial attempt at peace talks was scheduled to begin. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government accused the United States of trying to sabotage the talks, as the Taliban canceled the meeting.

Since then, the Obama administration has worked to improve relations with Sharif, who took office last June in the first democratic transfer of power in Pakistani history. Administration officials have praised his efforts to address serious structural problems in Pakistan and to promote peace in the region.

A senior administration official, in response to queries, denied that any informal agreement had been reached, saying that “the issue of whether to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban is entirely an internal matter for Pakistan”.

The administration is “continuing to aggressively identify and disrupt terrorist threats in the Afghan war theater and outside areas of active hostilities in line with our established CT (counterterrorism) objectives and legal and policy standards. Reports that we have agreed to a different approach in support of Pakistani peace talks are wrong,” said the senior official, one of several interviewed for this article who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive matter.

Relations with Pakistan have warmed even as US tensions have worsened with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has accused the administration of plotting against him, both with Pakistan and with the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban, a separate but allied organisation with which he has said he is trying to start his own peace negotiations.

Disclosure of a pause in the drone campaign in Pakistan came as a senior Republican lawmaker assailed the Obama administration for tightening the guidelines under which lethal drone strikes are permitted.

Republican Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that policy changes made by US President Obama last year to the drone program “are an utter and complete failure, and they leave Americans’ lives at risk”. The chairman did not mention the CIA program in Pakistan.

Meanwhile Jen Psaki, US State Department spokesperson during briefing on Tuesday said though the issue of holding talks is Pakistan’s internal matter, the US is closely following the recent developments and reports.

She said the United States and Pakistan continue to have a vital, shared strategic interest in ending extremist violence so as to build a more prosperous, stable, and peaceful region.

When asked why the US view on the Pak-Taliban talks is quite different from that on the Afghan-Taliban talks, Psaki said, “Every circumstance is different. I’m not piling every country and every circumstance into one. So I think I gave an answer on our position”.

She said it is for Pakistanis to make their own evaluation.

1 COMMENT

  1. Experts are also convinced that even the new military leadership cannot afford to give much room to Nawaz in the formulation and execution of national security and foreign policy.

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