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US drone strikes: There's 'no wink and nod' from Pakistan, ambassador says

At a Monitor breakfast Tuesday, Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman rejected perceptions that her government publicly condemns drone strikes while privately cooperating with the US on them.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman speaks at a Monitor breakfast with reporters in Washington on Tuesday.

Pakistan views the campaign of drone strikes that the United States continues to carry out against terrorist targets inside Pakistan as counterproductive and illegal – and as a setback for domestic efforts against extremism, the country’s ambassador to the US said Tuesday.

Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman rejected prevailing perceptions that her government publicly condemns the drone strikes while privately cooperating with the US on them. Instead, she says, the Pakistani government unequivocally opposes the strikes as a violation of sovereignty and as a recruitment tool for extremists.

“There is no policy of quiet complacency, no wink and nod,” Ambassador Rehman said at a Monitor breakfast with reporters in Washington.

The Pakistani diplomat insisted her country – keenly interested in the stability of the South Asian region – is expending considerable resources to enhance the security of its border with Afghanistan. But in terms of border interdiction and stability, she said, the US cannot expect Pakistan to accomplish what the US and its NATO partners could not ensure over a decade of operations in Afghanistan.

Rehman also rejected the complaints of some US and Afghan officials that Pakistan is not fully cooperating in efforts to promote an Afghan peace process through reconciliation – for example, by not releasing the high-level Afghan Taliban prisoners it holds as a goodwill gesture for planned peace negotiations.

Rehman hinted that such releases – including that of the Taliban’s former second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, whom the government in Kabul wants released to facilitate talks – may be coming. But, she also insisted, the peace process can succeed only if it is directed by Afghans.

“What we’re saying is we’re putting our shoulder to the wheel,” she said, “but [the peace process] has to be led by Afghanistan.” She added, “It must be defined by them, led by them, goal-posted by them.”

Pakistan’s focus is security and stability throughout South Asia, said Rehman, who referred to a “historic shift that Pakistan is very consciously making.”

Rehman’s comments came as Afghan and Pakistani leaders met with British officials in London to discuss Afghan reconciliation efforts as NATO countries pursue a military drawdown that is set to have them out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The Afghan government’s reconciliation plan puts Pakistan in the role of go-between in eventual face-to-face, Taliban-Afghan government peace talks.

But others, including some US officials, have questioned Pakistan’s ability to play that role, given what they say is its long history of harboring Taliban fighters as a means of maintaining a degree of influence in Afghan affairs.

Rehman countered such an argument, saying that Pakistan has lost more than 46,000 civilians and security forces in its fight with extremists. She also said that the country’s tribal areas where extremists have flourished are increasingly under government control.

The slice of tribal areas under government control has increased from 37 percent in 2009 to 86 percent last year, she said.

In her remarks, Rehman emphasized that this spring will be the first time in Pakistan’s history that an elected government will have completed a full ruling period before new elections. Calling that achievement “historic,” she said it underscores Pakistan’s progress as a stable and advancing democracy.

Perhaps conscious that much of the world now associates her country with the case of Malala Yousafzai – the 15-year-old advocate of girls’ education shot in the head last October by the Taliban – Rehman said the Pakistani government has taken unprecedented steps to reduce female poverty and encourage women’s participation in the country’s political and economic life.

But women’s economic and social betterment is “not going to happen overnight,” she said. Still, she noted, Pakistan has approved a “safety net” specifically designed to address female poverty and economic independence, while legislation addressing sexual harassment and domestic violence has been passed.

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