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Former Pakistan PM, officials deny US drone collusion
by Staff Writers
Islamabad (AFP) Oct 24, 2013


Pakistan secretly endorsed drone strikes: report
Washington (AFP) Oct 24, 2013 - Pakistan for years secretly approved of US drone attacks on its territory despite public denunciations, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing secret documents.

The purported evidence of Islamabad's involvement came as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the White House and urged an end to the attacks, which are widely unpopular with the Pakistani public.

Pakistani support for drone attacks has long been widely suspected, although strikes reported by the Post involved several years up to 2011 -- before a slowdown in strikes and Sharif's election in May.

The newspaper said that top-secret documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos showed that the Central Intelligence Agency had drafted documents to share information on drone attacks with Pakistan.

At least 65 drone strikes were marked for discussion with Pakistan, including through briefings at its embassy in Washington and in materials sent physically to senior officials in Islamabad.

In one case in 2010, a document describes hitting a location "at the request of your government." Another file referred to a joint effort at picking targets.

The article -- co-written by Bob Woodward, one of the two journalists who broke the Watergate scandal in the 1970s -- said that the documents also showed that the United States raised concerns that extremists were linked to Pakistan's powerful intelligence service.

In one incident, then secretary of state Hillary Clinton confronted Pakistan about cell phones and written materials from dead bodies of militants that showed links to the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

In turn, a Pakistani memo gave the names of 36 US citizens believed to be CIA agents and urged the embassy in Washington not to issue visas to them, the newspaper said.

The report came a day after Amnesty International said that the United States may have broken international law by killing civilians with drones.

It pointed to an October 2012 attack that killed a 68-year-old grandmother as she picked vegetables.

For the first six months of 2011, 152 combatants were killed, according to a table cited by the Post that did not list any civilian casualties.

The Obama administration has defended drone strikes as a better way to avoid civilian casualties, saying that it carefully selects Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in lawless parts of Pakistan.

Pakistani officials and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Thursday denied a report that they had approved US drone strikes on the country's soil.

The Washington Post on Wednesday quoted leaked secret documents as saying Pakistan had been regularly briefed on strikes up till late 2011 and in some cases had helped choose targets.

The purported evidence of Islamabad's involvement came as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met US President Barack Obama at the White House and urged him to end the attacks, which are widely unpopular with the Pakistani public.

A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman said the anti-drone stance of the Sharif government, elected in May, was clear and any past agreements no longer applied.

Pakistani security officials claimed the story was a US attempt to undermine Sharif's position and reduce criticism of the drone campaign, days after an Amnesty International report warned some of the strikes could constitute war crimes.

The Washington Post's revelations concerned strikes in a four-year period from late 2007, when military ruler Pervez Musharraf was in power, to late 2011 when a civilian government had taken over.

Gilani, prime minister from 2008 until June last year, vehemently denied giving any approval for drone strikes.

"We have never allowed Americans to carry out drone attacks in the tribal areas," Gilani told AFP.

"From the very beginning we are against drone strikes and we have conveyed it to Americans at all forums."

Islamabad routinely condemns the strikes targeting suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in its northwest tribal areas. But evidence of collusion or tacit approval has leaked out in recent years.

A diplomatic cable from then-US ambassador Anne Patterson, dated August 2008 and released by Wikileaks, indicated Gilani had agreed to the strikes in private.

"I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it," the leaked cable quoted him as telling US officials.

In April this year Musharraf told CNN that he had authorised drone strikes in Pakistan while he was in power.

Musharraf's spokesman Raza Bokhari told AFP Wednesday: "There were less than 10 strikes, all of which targeted militants, and (a) few of them were a joint operation between United States and Pakistan in locations that were not accessible to ground forces of Pakistan."

The Post said top-secret documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos showed the Central Intelligence Agency, which runs the drone programme, had drafted documents to share information on at least 65 attacks with Pakistan.

In one case in 2010, a document describes hitting a location "at the request of your government" and another refers to a joint targeting effort between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

A senior Pakistani security official flatly denied any official deal to help with the drone campaign.

"There has never been official arrangement at the strategic or government level," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"The purpose of giving such stories is nothing but face-saving. Americans are trying to dilute the growing pressure by using back channels and making Pakistan a party to the whole issue."

A second security official said Washington wanted to spread responsibility as it was coming under increasing pressure from rights groups to halt the drone campaign.

The US has carried out nearly 400 drone attacks in Pakistan's restive tribal districts along the Afghan border since 2004, killing between 2,500 and 3,600 people, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Sharif this week called drone strikes a "major irritant" in ties with the US, which have recovered significantly after a series of crises in 2011 and 2012, including a US special forces raid inside Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.

Foreign ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said the current government's position was clear -- drones were a violation of sovereignty and must stop.

"Whatever understandings there may or may not have been in the past, the present government has been very clear regarding its policy on the issue," he said.

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