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Pakistan: Use of UAV’s Under Threat over Senator’s Comments

Highlights -United States unlikely to alter its strategy regarding the use of unmanned aircraft in the near-term -Pakistani leaders under growing pressure by public to oppose attacks -Behind-the-scenes negotiations likely to dominate Pakistan-US relations for the near-term Over the past week, Pakistan’s northwest region has experienced two suspected attacks from United States (US) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The first attack took place on February 14, 2009 in South Waziristan, where two missiles reportedly struck a militant camp run by Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the umbrella group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The second air strike occurred on February 16, 2009 when three missiles reportedly hit a house in Kurram Agency where suspected Afghan Taliban militants were holding an important meeting. The two attacks by the UAV’s killed nearly 60 militants. The latest attacks represent the fourth since US President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, indicating that a change in US policy regarding unmanned aerial strikes is unlikely. While the Pakistani civilian government under President Asif Ali Zardari and the Army have increasingly complained about use of unmanned aircraft, the US has ignored calls to discontinue the strikes. However, the latest comments by California Senator Diane Feinstein – wherein she stated drone attacks targeting militants in the northwest are being launched from Pakistani bases – are likely to result in an unprecedented level of opposition to the use of unmanned drones. Due to their overall effectiveness in killing high-level Taliban and other extremists in northwest Pakistan, the US will attempt to downplay the negative reaction by the central government in Islamabad and the Pakistani public. However, because the comments were made by the Senator who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, behind-the-scenes talks between the sides are expected to be intense and may potentially result in a re-negotiation of current foreign aid agreements to appease Pakistani leaders. A Pakistani Rebuttal Following Senator Feinstein’s comments, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi denied that Pakistani bases were used for US drone attacks targeting suspected militants in the tribal areas. Qureshi condemned the latest air strikes, claiming they infringed on Pakistan’s sovereignty. Qureshi’s comments followed a visit by US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who has called the situation in the northwest “dire.” At the meeting with Qureshi, the US envoy reportedly stated that the drone attack strategy would have to be reviewed if the disadvantages outweighed the advantages of the strikes. Until recently, the Pakistani government has largely maintained a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward unmanned drone air strikes. Allegedly, the Pakistani government would publicly condemn the attacks to appease the public, but behind-the-scenes would support the US in the effort, and in some cases go so far as to supply Washington with vital intelligence. However, Feinstein’s comments have caused a major uproar within the Pakistani government, and may potentially cause a rift in US-Pakistan relations. The Pakistani press is appears unconvinced of the government’s latest denial, claiming that official sources have lost all credibility. Pakistani civilian and military leaders within the country are being accusing of deliberately lying to the public and press, further enraging the already angry Pakistani people. Overall, Islamabad has adhered to its policy of denial since unmanned air strikes became more commonplace, but the negative impact it is having on public opinion has put heightened pressure on Pakistani politicians. The likelihood that the government will admit to any coordination or cooperation with the US regarding the aerial strike is low, particularly given the current political instability in Pakistan. Successes and Political Costs of US Air Strikes UAV’s have struck targets in Pakistan at least 40 times in 2008 and,

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OODA Analyst

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