After a brief lull, US has resumed Drone attacks in Pakistan. At least eight people were killed Wednesday in two US drone strikes at Angoor Adda in South Waziristan Agency. The attack came just one day after a Washington meeting between CIA Director Leon Panetta and Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence agency, who called for an end to the strikes that have caused deep anger in Pakistan.
According to media reports, two unmanned planes fired at least four missiles at a house and two vehicles. The first drone attack was on a house and in the second attack a car and a motorcycle were targeted at Baghar village in Angoor Adda, around six km from the border with Afghanistan.
It was the first drone attack since March 17 in which 50 people attending a pro-government jirga meeting were killed in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. Pakistan's civilian and military leaders strongly protested over the attack.
According to DAWN, a leading Pakistani newspaper, the timing of the latest attack is meaningful because it took place at a time when ISI chief Gen Shuja Pasha was on his way home from Washington after talks with his counterpart, CIA Director Leon Panetta. Gen Pasha had called for limiting the scope of drone attacks to North Waziristan as a precondition for reviving the stalled counter-terrorism cooperation.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. hasn't committed to adjusting the drone program in response to Pakistan's request. "The CIA operates covertly, meaning the program doesn't require Islamabad's support, under U.S. law. Some officials say the CIA operates with relative autonomy in the tribal areas. They played down the level of support they now receive from Pakistani intelligence."
AFP quoted an unnamed US official as saying: "Panetta has been clear with his Pakistani counterparts that his fundamental responsibility is to protect the American people, and he will not halt operations that support that objective."
IPS quoted Anatol Lieven, a specialist at Kings College, Cambridge as saying that "The Pakistanis are in a deeply humiliating position" in regard to the drone strikes. He said the military leadership no longer trusts the Americans' judgment on the program, in part because the strikes are killing people in North Waziristan who are willing to make a deal to end their fight against the Pakistani military and government. Drone attacks doubled in the area last year, with more than 100 drone strikes killing over 670 people in 2010 compared with 45 strikes that killed 420 in 2009, according to an AFP tally.
Drone attacks with Pakistan's tacit approval
The CIA's drone attacks come under an arrangement in which Pakistani officials deny involvement in the strikes and criticize them publicly, even as Pakistan's intelligence agency secretly relays targeting information to the CIA and allowed the agency to operate from its territory.
Not surprisingly, the leaked cables quote former US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson confirmed this arrangement. A leaked cable said: (Interior Minister Rehman) Malik suggested we hold off alleged Predator attacks until after the Bajaur operation. The PM brushed aside Rehman's remarks and said "I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it."
In a hypocritical statement Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly on Wednesday that Pakistan is engaging friendly countries to exert diplomatic pressure on the Unites States to stop drone attacks on its Tribal Area.
Dawn reported that the CIA-ISI cooperation has been on hold since January when CIA operative Raymond Davis fatally shot two ISI agents in Lahore. The paper said the two agencies were close to resolving their operational differences last month (Davis release being part of that deal), but drone attacks on a jirga one day after the release killed the prospects for a rapprochement. However, fresh efforts were made to normalize the ties and Gen Pasha's visit to Washington was an effort in that direction.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner acknowledged Tuesday that the 47-day detention of CIA contractor Raymond Allen Davis has made relations more difficult. "Certainly, the US and Pakistan remain strategic partners. We've got a shared commitment to strengthening our bilateral relationship. And we have been through a difficult period. I think, other people, individuals and US officials have acknowledged that including ambassador Cameron Munter," Toner said at the daily briefing. "And we are working to get relationship back on track. We are looking to renew the relationship in a way and getting past difficulty that Raymond Davis case caused," he added in response to a question about the current state of relations between the two countries.
To borrow Dave Lindorff, for all the US hyperventilating against Shariah law in Muslim countries, it was by applying Pakistan's Shariah Law on the use of death payments to victims' families that the US got Davis sprung. But he was not freed before virtually everyone in Pakistan had begun calling for his trial and execution, and not before it became clear that he, and the rest of the US spy army in Pakistan, was actually involved in subverting civil authority in that country, as Lindorff said.
The frayed relationship was the focus of a nearly four-hour meeting Monday at CIA headquarters between agency director Leon E Panetta and Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. Although both sides cited progress, media reports said there were also indications that major points of disagreement remain unresolved.