A missile attack by a US drone has killed at least eight suspected Islamic militants in Pakistan’s remote North Waziristan region along the Afghan border.
The attack on Saturday will add fresh strains to Washington’s ties with a country that it considers a vital ally for stabilising Afghanistan, Pakistani officials warned.
The attack was the second of its kind in the past week, suggesting Washington is determined to disregard Pakistan’s protests against the use of drones over its territory. In the past week, the Obama administration for the first time formally acknowledged the use of drones as a legal and ethical tool against terrorists.
Relations have yet to recover from November 2011, when Pakistan closed ta supply route to Afghanistan after 26 of its soldiers were killed in a western helicopter attack from Afghanistan
Last month, a committee of Pakistan’s parliament recommended reopening the route for non-weapon supplies but made it conditional upon the US halting drone attacks.
US officials consider drones among their most potent weapons in Washington’s decade long campaign to stabilise Afghanistan. But their use and civilian casualties has made the US deeply unpopular in the region.
The public criticism is not just on the matter of the attacks themselves but also what flag is painted on the drones
“Pakistan has consistently maintained that these illegal attacks are a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and are in contravention of international law,” said Pakistan’s foreign ministry in a statement, adding: “It is our considered view that the strategic disadvantages of such attacks far outweigh their tactical advantages, and are therefore, totally counterproductive”.
In the past some Pakistani officials privately accepted the utility of drones against militants. But analysts say growing public disquiet has forced the authorities to harden their position.
“The reaction by the government is being fuelled by the mood on Pakistan’s streets,” said Qazi Humayun, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan. “Pakistan’s government cannot ignore these attacks any longer”.
Hummaa Ahmad, former editor of The News, a mainstream Pakistani newspaper, said a growing number of Pakistanis believed that drones attacks “impinge upon Pakistan’s sovereignty”.
Ms Ahmad added: “Mechanisms such as a system of joint control of the drones will have to be found to begin dealing with the fallout. Pakistan must have a say in where a future attack will take place”.
A foreign ministry official in Islamabad said Pakistan had so far failed to convince the US to supply drones to Islamabad, as a way to blunt the criticism. “The Americans say drones are a very potent weapon. We have asked them to sell us drones but they have refused. The public criticism is not just on the matter of the attacks themselves but also what flag is painted on the drones”.