CIA drone strikes in Pakistan are “a clear violation of our sovereignty and a violation of international law” that threaten stable relations between the two governments, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States said Tuesday.
Persistent reports that Pakistan has tacitly approved the strikes while publicly denouncing them are untrue, Ambassador Sherry Rehman said.
“Let me assure you that since we have been in government, there has been no quiet complicity, no question of wink and nod,” she said, referring to the hundreds of drone attacks on militant targets, most of them under the Obama administration.
Her comments, in a meeting with reporters organized by the Christian Science Monitor, underscored the fragility of the thaw in U.S. relations with Pakistan after what Rehman said were years of “chronic distrust and periods of crisis management.”
Pakistan is crucial to U.S. hopes of a smooth end to the war in Afghanistan and future stability there. The Obama administration has tried to persuade Pakistan to improve its relationship with the Afghan government, even as Washington continues to accuse the Pakistanis of providing support and sanctuary to Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Pakistan has agreed to an Afghan request for the release of Afghan Taliban prisoners held in Pakistan, Rehman said, although she declined to specify who would be released or when. Afghanistan officials said they believe the prisoners, some of them high-level Taliban members, can be helpful in reconciliation talks with the militants.
The Pakistanis have long resented what they describe as the United States’ failure to appreciate their domestic terrorism problems and counterterrorism operations, which Rehman said have cost nearly 50,000 military and civilian lives and billions of dollars in expenditures and lost income over the past decade.
Although U.S.-Pakistan relations are on an “uphill trajectory,” Rehman said, Pakistan is increasingly concerned that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will leave “the kind of detritus we were left to deal with” after the last U.S. departure from the region more than two decades ago.
As the Obama administration plans for a quick exit, with a force of unknown size left behind, “there are clear worries about how responsible this drawdown will be,” said Rehman, who became ambassador to Washington in November 2011 after a career in parliament focused on foreign policy and human rights.
The United States and Afghanistan have criticized Pakistan for allowing Pakistan-based Afghan militants to freely cross the border to attack their forces. But Pakistan has its own complaints, charging that U.S. and Afghan forces have failed to secure their side of the border and allowed Pakistani extremists to use eastern Afghanistan as a base of operations.
Rehman said many of the militants who attack Pakistani government targets are hiding in eastern Afghanistan, in part because U.S. and international forces are not present in large numbers.
“The border is becoming increasingly volatile,” Rehman said.