New Pak leadership will pose greater threat to drone program: US

The major candidates to become Pakistan`s next prime minister oppose American drone strikes on extremists in their country.

Updated: Apr 05, 2013, 21:28 PM IST

Washington: The major candidates to become Pakistan`s next prime minister oppose American drone strikes on extremists in their country, which bodes ill for the US policy after Pakistan`s historic parliamentary elections in May.

According to estimates by the London-based nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the US has conducted 366 drone strikes since 2004, killing as many 3,581 people, including 884 civilians, and wounding 1,465. About 314 of those drone strikes have been carried out in the Obama administration, reports the Washington Times.

Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, said whatever civilian leadership is installed after the elections, will demand greater respect for Pakistani sovereignty by the US and an end to the use of drones. Pakistan`s May 11 parliamentary elections will mark the first time in the nuclear-armed nation`s 65-year history that a civilian government will hand over power to a democratically elected successor.

A two-time former prime minister, a cricket star-turned-politician and a former army general-turned-dictator are among the leading candidates vying for the office of prime minister.

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister who heads the Pakistan Muslim League, has said that if his party is elected, his government will not tolerate drone strikes.

Imran Khan, a former captain of Pakistan`s national cricket team who now heads the Pakistan Movement for Justice, has led thousands of supporters in a protest march against the drone strikes. Pervez Musharraf, a former army general who seized power from Sharif in a 1999 coup, wants the US to give the drones to Pakistan to fight terrorists.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who heads the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution, said US-Pakistan relations will remain tense, regardless of who wins the elections. The US drone strikes have been focused on Pakistan`s northwest tribal region, where Islamic extremists including the Taliban have long enjoyed safe havens along the border with Afghanistan. The Taliban has since spread to the Pakistani port city of Karachi.