A deal between the US and Pakistan on the American drone campaign against militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan appears unlikely despite efforts by Pakistani negotiators to work out a compromise,according to the report.
“Cessation of drones is still a high priority for us in the dialogue with the US but I’m afraid we are nowhere near a deal on the issue,” a senior unnamed Pakistani official said.
“But we’ll keep talking to them about it,” he said. A statement issued after a meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet on July 3 clearly indicated that Pakistan was trying to cut a deal with the US on drone strikes.
It noted that Pakistan “will continue to engage the US on counter-terrorism cooperation and counter- terrorism tools that are in line with international law and practice”.
The latest Pakistani assessment that a deal is unlikely follows recent bilateral interactions,including a meeting between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The pessimistic estimation is in sharp contrast with optimism in the Pakistani camp days before the July 3 deal on reopening NATO supply routes to Afghanistan after a seven-month blockade,the report said.
During negotiations,Pakistan had suggested various options,including using F-16s to target militants in the tribal areas,to stop the US drone attacks,the daily said.
The senior official said the army’s General Headquarters and Inter-Services Intelligence offered alternatives like a combination of defence and intelligence operations to root out terrorists from hideouts.
Pakistan has been contending that the US drone attacks are counter-productive and a violation of the country’s sovereignty and international law.
However,senior military officials and senior diplomats privately acknowledged the tactical advantages of drone attack.
A parliamentary resolution on Pakistan-US ties had called for the cessation of drone attacks but did not link resumption of ties to the ending of the drone campaign.
Since 2004,the US has carried out over 300 strikes on targets chiefly in North and South Waziristan.
Lately,the attacks have targeted sanctuaries of the Haqqani network and Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan.
Both have been accused of sheltering Al Qaeda terrorists and carrying out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.
The existing mistrust between Islamabad and Washington,despite the much acclaimed “new beginning” after the reopening of NATO routes,is preventing the US from agreeing to any alternative to drone strikes.
Pakistani officials said the Americans had made it clear that the objective of the drone campaign is to target the Al Qaeda network and groups providing protection to it.
“It is a perception among some officials that the minimum the Americans need for a deal on drones is Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri’s capture,” the report said.
“Pakistan’s position on drone attacks is very clear,and very clearly stated. This is an issue and both countries want to resolve it in a mutually acceptable manner,” Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan said at the weekly news briefing yesterday.