US may equip Pakistan with drone aircraft, Gates says

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told leaders on his visit to Islamabad that all of South Asia faces instability if Al Qaeda goes unchecked in Pakistan.

By , Correspondent

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    Pakistan's Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar, right, meets US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Thursday.
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US Defense Secretary Robert Gates landed Thursday in Islamabad with the goal of pressing Pakistan to stamp out Al Qaeda and other terrorist factions that he earlier warned could destabilize South Asia.

In his first visit to the country since the inauguration of the Obama White House, Mr. Gates said the US is considering supplying Pakistan with unarmed drone aircraft. While Pakistan has publicly called America's use of drones a violation of sovereignty, Islamabad has requested the technology for itself, Reuters reported.

"We are in partnership with the Pakistani military and we are working to give them their own intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance vehicles, both aircraft and drones," Gates said.

Until now, the US has not been willing to share the technology, The Hindustan Times reports.

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The Pakistan government, which has opposed US drone attacks in its tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, had been pressing the American administration to provide it unmanned aerial vehicle technology so that its armed forces could carry out attacks on Taliban fighters. Till now, the US had refused to provide drones or UAV technology to Pakistan, which has a small number of indigenously developed spy planes.

Gates arrived after a meeting in India with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders. He told reporters there that focusing antiterror efforts on a single group would be a grave error, reports The New York Times.

“It’s dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say, ‘If we could beat that group that would solve the problem,’ because they are in effect a syndicate of terrorist operators,” Gates said. In short, he said, “the success of any one of these groups leads to new capabilities and a new reputation for all.”

The secretary also warned that a Pakistani failure to keep domestic terror cells in check could escalate into an international incident, referring to the 2008 rampage in Mumbai, which was blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. “I think it is not unreasonable to assume Indian patience would be limited were there to be further attacks,” Gates said.

His visit comes amid increasing local concern about growing US involvement in Pakistan, reports the BBC. That compounds anger over civilian deaths in drone attacks along the country’s border with Afghanistan, where US officials believe many Taliban leaders are holding out.

But a recent US aid package that triples nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan, to the tune of $1.5 billion annually until 2015, has left Islamabad’s leadership somewhat bound to American antiterror efforts, says Reuters. Pakistan has lost about 2,000 troops fighting the Taliban so far and is expected to launch a new offensive close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border later this year, according to reports.

As it prepares to send tens of thousands more of its own soldiers to Afghanistan, the US is also seeking greater international cooperation. While in New Delhi, Gates also discussed Indian reconstruction support in Kabul, reports Pakistan’s Daily Times. He will probably try to ease the concerns of Pakistan officials suspicious of India gaining influence in Afghanistan.

In an opinion piece published in Pakistan’s The News, Gates tried to drum up common support for US military efforts in South Asia -- by hitting on the notion that nowhere is safe from terrorist organizations.

I know there is concern that an increased U.S. presence in Afghanistan will lead to more attacks in Pakistan. It is important to remember that the Pakistani Taliban operates in collusion with both the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda, so it is impossible to separate these groups. If history is any indication, safe havens for either Taliban, on either side of the border, will in the long-run lead to more lethal and more brazen attacks in both nations – attacks of the kind that have already exacted a terrible civilian toll.

Earlier, Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said the military option is not the only way to fight terrorism, The News reported.

"Only 10 percent success can be achieved through operations while 90 percent success is possible through economic development,” Gilani said.

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Correction: The original version of this story misstated Secretary Gates's position on the use of drones in fighting militants in Pakistan.

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See also

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