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Pakistan's Gillani Asks U.S. for Drone Technology, Other Military Aid

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By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 23, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 22 -- Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani on Wednesday called on the United States to provide real-time intelligence, unmanned aircraft technology and other military assistance to help his country combat the Taliban without relying on attacks from U.S. drones.

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Gillani raised the issue with Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, who is on his fourth visit here since becoming the U.S. envoy to the region, according to a statement from the prime minister's office. Pakistan has asked before for the capability to carry out its own drone strikes, so as to avoid the public outcry that regularly follows attacks by U.S. unmanned aircraft.

The drone attacks in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan "have seriously impeded Pakistan's efforts towards rooting out militancy and terrorism from the area," the statement said. Pakistan has cooperated with the U.S. drone missions despite its public position against them, and many Pakistani officials privately say that the attacks are helpful.

Analysts have expressed doubt that the United States would comply with Pakistan's request to share the drone technology. "America has been saying, 'This is one of those technologies that is a critical technology, and we haven't even provided it to other allies,' " said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general.

Weapons requests have long been a staple of Pakistan's relationship with the United States, but some diplomats said concern has increased after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took steps this week to boost military sales to India. The measures could provide more than 100 U.S. fighter jets to Pakistan's neighbor and nemesis.

"What Hillary is doing there is probably again going to start an arms race," said one Pakistani diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Pakistan also raised concerns about other regional issues during Holbrooke's visit, such as the U.S. Marine offensive in southern Afghanistan, which officials here say could force more Taliban fighters across the border into Pakistan. But some played down the issue. "It's not really an irritant as such. But we do want to minimize any negative fallout in Pakistan," said Abdul Basit, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

The greater concern among Pakistani intelligence officials and diplomats remains India. Intelligence officials said the military cannot pull more troops off the eastern border with India, a limitation that hampers plans to expand this summer's Swat Valley offensive into the tribal region of South Waziristan. During a briefing this week, Pakistani intelligence officials accused India of blocking the rivers that run from the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir into Pakistan, intensifying military exercises along the border, and training and funding insurgents in Afghanistan to launch attacks on Pakistan.

"We cannot afford to denude our eastern border," one Pakistani intelligence official said. "How can we really move forward?"

Indian officials deny the accusations and say Pakistan continues to nurture Islamist extremists who have carried out major attacks across South Asia in recent years, including in the Indian mega-city of Mumbai in November.

Basit, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that many in Pakistan think there are "double standards being pursued by the U.S."

"While on the one hand there is an appetite to help Pakistan in crushing militancy and terrorism, on the other hand there is no pressure being mounted on India to resolve the political conflict of Kashmir," he said.

Despite the criticism, several Pakistani officials said they see signs of hope in the Obama administration's emphasis on long-term economic development. Holbrooke announced Wednesday that $165 million in U.S. funding will be given to programs that assist Pakistanis displaced by the fighting in Swat.

Also Wednesday, Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered former president Pervez Musharraf to appear before the bench to answer questions about his decision in 2007 to oust dozens of judges, suspend the constitution and declare emergency rule. Musharraf, a retired general who now lives in London, could send a lawyer on his behalf. But the hearing has raised concerns about potential political volatility as the court considers criminal proceedings against Musharraf.


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