Pakistan’s Gilani acknowledges possibility of contact with U.S. over planned drone strikes

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A former Pakistani prime minister strongly denied Thursday that he had quietly authorized U.S. drone strikes inside his country, but he didn’t rule out secret deals made without his knowledge.

A day earlier, a Washington Post report detailed how the United States and Pakistan communicated about, and in some cases coordinated, dozens of drone strikes in Pakistan from late 2007 to late 2011. But Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was the country’s prime minister from 2008 to 2012, said it was “totally absurd” to suggest that his government had condoned the attacks.

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“During my government, there was no such support given to drone strikes whatsoever,” Gilani said in an interview, adding that he had discussed with President Obama in 2010 “how this strategy with drones was counterproductive and undermining our anti-terror efforts.”

He said he could not rule out that the two nations had communicated about planned drone strikes during his tenure. But if they did, he said, the parties involved would have been the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-
Services Intelligence agency, under conditions set by Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler.

“The permission must have been given earlier,” said Gilani, who was also cited in a 2010 WikiLeaks report as being privately supportive of some strikes. “After 9/11, the U.S. rang up Musharraf and said, ‘You are either with us or you are not with us,’ and he said, ‘We are with you.’ ”

In an interview with CNN last year, Musharraf admitted to authorizing “a few” U.S. drone strikes before he stepped down in 2008. Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper reported Thursday that a former top-ranking military commander who had served under Musharraf, retired Lt. Gen. Shahid Aziz, is calling for Musharraf to be charged with extrajudicial murder for his role in the drone campaign.

Musharraf is under house arrest in Islamabad on several charges stemming from his autocratic tenure.

But The Post’s report details coordination as recently as 2011, causing some analysts to suspect that Musharraf’s successors also were aware of some U.S. strike targets.

“This puts cold water on the hype,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and a military analyst, referring to the public anger in Pakistan over U.S. attacks. “I think people knew it already, but this makes it much more obvious, and the [Pakistani] media and others will have to cool off.”

Pakistan’s current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who took office in June, has made stopping the drone campaign a top priority. He raised the issue during a meeting with Obama at the White House on Wednesday. Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said Thursday that the government remains united in seeking an end to the strikes.

“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,” Chaudhry said. “We regard such strikes as a violation of our sovereignty as well as international law.”

Saeed Ghani, a Pakistani lawmaker, said he suspects that some U.S. drone strikes did have the tacit approval of government or military leaders here. But he said Sharif and other politicians are under tremendous pressure from the public to stop them.

“There probably was some understanding,” Ghani said. “But it’s now very difficult for political governments to carry on those understandings.”

Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.

 
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