ISLAMABAD - The United States has promised it will not carry out drone strikes against high profile terrorist targets in Pakistan during the course of dialogue between the government and the Taliban, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz told a Senate committee on Wednesday.
Giving briefing to the committee on PM’s recent visits to US, UK, Sri Lanka and Thailand, he said that Washington has told Islamabad that Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in drone strike because he was a very high value target for both US and Pakistan.
Pakistan, however, has rejected the explanation given by Washington in this regard and has conveyed US not to attack Taliban leaders during dialogue process, Aziz told the committee, which met under the chairmanship of Haji Muhammad Adeel.
“The US drone which killed the Taliban leader (Hakimullah Mehsud) harmed Pakistan’s peace initiative... The United States has now assured Pakistan that it will not launch any drone strike when talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are started,“ Aziz said, but he did not clarify when the US had given this assurance.
The Adviser said that when the issue of protests against Mehsud’s killing was brought up, America insisted that he was already on their hit list. He quoted President Obama as saying that America does not want 70 percent of Pakistanis to hate it, but it was desperate.
Sartaj Aziz told meeting that US officials were holding the argument that US has achieved 60 to 70 percent of its targets with drones but Pakistan neglecting this argument stressed on US that drone attacks are against the security and sovereignty of Pakistan.
Aziz said the peace process had been on hold since Mehsud’s killing and the negotiations had been badly affected by the Nov 1 drone strike in North Waziristan. He said a team of government negotiators was ready to hold talks with Hakimullah Mehsud, who himself had added names of two clerics to the government proposed team of negotiators.
The Adviser told the committee that Pakistan has also raised the issue of Dr Aafia Siddiqui with Washington and demanded her release but declined to hand over Dr Shakil Afridi to the US. He also informed committee that issue of scheduling of payable loans of Pakistan was also discussed in visit.
He said the major reason behind prime minister’s visit to US was to reinstate the suspended defence negotiations between Pakistan and US, which will be held in March next year. He stated that PM has made it clear to US authorities that Pakistan needs trade, not aid. A meeting of Pak-US energy group has held in Washington some days ago in this regard, he added.
Replying to a query about Cabinet Committee for National Security (CCNS), Aziz said this committee was not a replacement of Pervez Mushrraf’s committee as the new committee has been established under the PM.
About PM’s visit to Britain, he said that Pakistan’s stance on Afghanistan was clearly mentioned in trilateral talks, while Chinese and Thai businessmen have declared Pakistan a best place for investment.
Committee expressed concerns over the issue of not increasing the fee on Nato containers providing luggage to allied forces in Afghanistan. On this Aziz responded that the defence committee of previous government had debated this issue and it was decided that no additional fee would be charged on Nato containers to help US pull its troops out of Afghanistan.
Senator Farahatullah Babar, expressing concerns over not signing of any formal agreement on prevention of drone attacks, questioned if Obama’s promise regarding drone attacks was raised before US ambassador after Mehsud’s assassination.
Sartaj Aziz replied that US president had given very positive reply regarding prevention of drone attacks and foreign secretary Jaleel Abbas Jillani had also raised the issue of drone attack before US ambassador.
The issue of drone strikes has become a source of tension between Pakistan and the US with Islamabad arguing that these strikes were source of breeding terrorists. Pakistan has also raised the US drone attacks in the UN Security Council on the pretext that these were illegal, breach of country’s sovereignty and counter-productive.
The cricketer-turned politician, Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party rules the province, has said the blockade of the route will continue unless the US stops drone attacks. The US insists Pakistan has failed to act against the al-Qaeda operatives and the Taliban militants in Waziristan tribal region who are accused of cross-border attacks into Afghanistan. The TTP had refused to talk to the government after the killing of their chief and also announced revenge attacks.