US drone strike in Pakistan highlights divergent interests of US, Pakistan

An end to the US drone campaign has been a key demand of Pakistan in exchange for reopening NATO supply routes, highlighting the differences the US and Pakistan have to overcome.

Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
A man rides his bicycle past fuel tankers, which were used to carry fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan, parked along a roadside in Karachi, Pakistan, May 23. The US hopes Pakistan will soon agree to re-open supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan, a US official said on Wednesday.

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Just after Pakistan's president left the NATO summit in Chicago earlier this week, a US drone killed four suspected militants in northwest Pakistan today. As the two countries attempt to reconcile, the attack is a reminder of disparate US and Pakistani interests.

Associated Press reports that today's strike targeted Datta Khel Kalai village in North Waziristan, according to Pakistani intelligence.

Pakistan has repeatedly demanded an end to the American drone campaign, and negotiations over the strikes have held up a deal to reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, which Pakistan closed last year in retaliation for a US airstrike that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. 

The closure of Pakistan supply routes has forced NATO to use alternate, more expensive routes for roughly 30 percent of its noncombat supplies for troops in Afghanistan, according to AP. The alternate routes go through Russia and Central Asia via land, air, and water.  Pakistan appeared to be close to reopening the routes last week, prompting an invitation for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to the NATO summit earlier this week. But negotiations were once again pushed off track by Pakistan's demand for higher transit fees.

President Zardari's invitation to the meeting was widely viewed as a goodwill gesture from the US, although the fact that he was never invited to meet with President Obama is a clear sign that relations remain strained, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

Chaudry Fawad, the special assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, told the Monitor that upon Zardari's return, there will likely be a change in Pakistan's attitude toward the US. Pakistan needs to reciprocate for the invitation to the summit, he said.

“We want to tell the world that we are not a hurdle in Afghanistan’s pull out of NATO forces. And I believe the bigger disputes between both countries have been resolved,” he said.

Fahd Husein, a senior journalist who hosts a political prime time talk show, told the Monitor that he believes Pakistan will be forced to concede on some of the demands the parliament set for reopening the supply routes. “We will not get the money that we are looking for, the drones will not stop, and most likely, we will not get an apology from Obama,” he said.

But not all Pakistanis feel that Pakistan has been backed into a corner and should concede on the supply routes. Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, now vice-chairman of opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said that Zardari failed to "effectively fight Pakistan's case vis-a-vis the NATO supply routes," The Hindu reports.

Pakistani authorities should have refused to go to the summit unless the US agreed to meet the Pakistani parliament's conditions, such as the end to the drone campaign and an apology for the November airstrike that prompted the closure of the supply routes, Mr. Qureshi said.

Reuters reports that a US Senate panel voted yesterday to cut Pakistan's aid by 58 percent for the 2013 fiscal year out of frustration over the supply route issue, putting additional pressure on Pakistan. 

An anonymous US official told Reuters today that talks about reopening the supply routes are ongoing and currently focused on technical issues, not the transit fees. A senior Pakistani government official said that the fee issue had already been "resolved." 

"The biggest snag is who is going to make the announcement? Which arm of the government is going to be made the fall guy for re-starting the not-at-all-popular NATO supply?" he said. "Who is going to be the villain of this drama?"

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