Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a meeting at the White House, urged US President Obama to end American drone strikes in Pakistan. The strikes, which target terror suspects but have also killed innocent civilians, has angered the Pakistani population.
Pakistani officials have long complained that US drone strikes violate the nation’s sovereignty, with civilians living in constant fear of the unmanned aerial devices buzzing in the sky overheard. Sharif has been one of the foremost anti-drone leaders in Pakistan since he took office earlier this year. He recently told the United Nations General Assembly that the interference undercuts Pakistan’s “resolve and efforts to eliminate extremism and terrorism from Pakistan.”
Tuesday, on the eve of his visit to Washington, Sharif said the strikes have “deeply disturbed and agitated” the Pakistani people.
“The use of drones is not only a violation of our territorial integrity but they are also detrimental to our efforts to eliminate terrorism from our country,” he went on, adding that the issue has become a “major irritant” in Pakistani/US relations.
How seriously Washington will take Sharif’s request remains to be seen. Along with Yemen, Pakistan has become a hotbed of US drone activity in recent years. The number of innocent civilians killed is estimated to be in the thousands, but official figures are not released publicly.
“We want to find ways for our countries to cooperate, even as we have differences on some issues, and we want to make sure that the trajectory of this relationship is a positive one,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Publicly the relationship between the US and Pakistan has been strained since a small team of US special forces crossed the Pakistan border and killed Al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Pakistani soldiers stationed on the border opened fire on US troops.
The drone strikes have traditionally targeted the hostile mountainous region of Pakistan, where the remaining Al-Qaeda leadership is thought to have taken refuge. Whether the Pakistani government has any influence in the area is unclear, and Admiral Michael Mullen – the top American military officer at the time of the bin Laden raid – said Pakistan’s intelligence agency is a “veritable arm” of the Haqqani militant network, which is known to be one of the groups attacking US troops in Afghanistan.