Pakistan summons U.S. diplomats over drone strikes

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif summoned U.S. Embassy officials Saturday to formally condemn continued drone strikes on Pakistani soil, a swift response from the country’s new government to a suspected U.S. missile attack hours earlier.

Under orders from Sharif, who was sworn in to a third term as prime minister Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires, Richard E. Hoagland, met with Pakistan’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi.

The meeting, confirmed by U.S. Embassy officials, occurred about 12 hours after Pakistani officials said seven people were killed by two U.S. missiles near Shawal in North Waziristan, not far from the country’s border with Afghanistan. It was the second suspected U.S. drone attack in Pakistan in a little more than a week and occurred just days after Sharif vowed in his inaugural speech to stand up to Washington over the issue.

U.S. Ambassador Richard E. Olson was out of the country Saturday, but Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Fatemi lodged an official protest with Hoagland.

“It was conveyed to the US that the Government of Pakistan strongly condemns the drone strikes, which are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the ministry said in a statement. “The importance of bringing an immediate end to the drone strikes was emphasized.”

The dressing down signals a more aggressive posture from Pakistan’s government now that Sharif has returned to power after two previous terms as prime minister in the 1990s. Although he continues to stress hopes for good relations with the United States, Sharif vowed during his campaign this spring to work to stop the strikes, which many Pakistanis blame for numerous civilian casualties and damage to homes, schools and mosques.

Not only are the strikes deeply unpopular with members of Nawaz’s Pakistan Muslim League party, the prime minister is also facing pressure from political rivals to address this issue more forcefully than outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari.

U.S. officials declined to discuss specifics of the meeting and have not confirmed the strike in North Waziristan on Friday. But President Obama has said drone strikes will continue when targets are deemed to pose a “continuing, imminent threat” to the United States or NATO forces in Afghanistan.

On Saturday, it was still not clear who was targeted in Friday’s strike, although Taliban leaders and fighters from both Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as other militant groups, are believed to operate in that area.

“The area is remote and located very strategically. Shawal is at the Afghan border with thick forests,” said one tribal leader, who asked not to be identified so he could speak freely about the matter. “Militants are using this area for training and also transporting weapons to Afghanistan.”

A spokesman for Pakistan’s Taliban declined to comment.

Pakistan, whose army is locked in its own battle with the militants, and the United States are expected to try to work together to assure stability in the region once NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But the Foreign Ministry said Saturday that continued U.S. strikes will “have a negative impact” on those efforts.

Haq Nawaz Khan contributed to this report.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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