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Pakistan opposes expanded US drone attacks

Last Updated: Friday, December 4, 2009 - 13:38

Washington: Pakistan opposes expanded US drone attacks against militants on its tribal areas, as well as any strikes on Baluchistan, where Washington believes Afghan Taliban leaders are hiding, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
Missile strikes from pilotless drone aircraft have created fierce anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, a strategic ally Washington wants to crack down harder on Taliban fighters operating along the porous border with Afghanistan.

The White House has authorised the expansion of the CIA`s drone program in Pakistan to complement President Barack Obama`s plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed officials.

It said that for the first time, US officials are talking with Islamabad about the possibility of hitting Baluchistan, where Pakistan is already facing a low-level insurgency from Baluch rebels seeking provincial autonomy.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said there were limits to Pakistani cooperation, and the drone attacks were counterproductive.

"This has never been part of our discussions. There are clear red-lines as far as we`re concerned," he said when asked if there were any talks between Washington and Islamabad on expansion of drone attacks to Baluchistan.

"We have clearly conveyed our red-lines to them."

The drone strikes have been limited to Pakistan`s ethnic Pashtun tribal regions near the Afghan border, semi-autonomous lands believed to be sanctuaries for al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In outlining his Afghanistan strategy in a speech on Tuesday, Obama made a vague plea to Pakistan to fight the "cancer" of extremism and said the United States would not tolerate Pakistan allowing its territory to be a safe haven for militants.

US lawmakers told Obama`s top advisers on Thursday the focus on sending additional troops to Afghanistan ignored the much larger threat of militants across the border in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Underscoring sensitivities of the drone issue, US officials say strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad that allows Pakistani leaders to decry the attacks in public.

The CIA-operated drones have already been increasingly used near the Afghan border. Nearly 50 drone air strikes in northwestern border regions this year have killed about 415 people, including many foreign militants, according to officials and residents.

But it is not just a rise in drone attacks, but the widening of the war geographically that worries Pakistanis.

Some of the most prominent militants reported killed by drone attacks include senior al Qaeda member Abu Laith al-Libi and al Qaeda chemical and biological weapons expert Abu Khabab al-Masri.

A drone missile strike in August killed Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was responsible for many suicide bombings including one that killed Pakistan`s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, according to Pakistani officials.

Bureau Report

First Published: Friday, December 4, 2009 - 13:38
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