In NW Pakistan, Incoming Gov’t Takes Aim at U.S. Drones

By Patrick Goodenough | May 24, 2013 | 4:19am EDT

Pakistani politicians Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan photographed in Karachi in 2007. Following this month’s election Sharif is now prime minister-designate while Khan’s party will govern the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Both are critics of U.S. drone strikes and want to pursue peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. (AP Photo/Pakistan Muslim League, File)

( – As President Obama addressed the issue of drone strikes publicly for the first time Thursday, the party set to head the government in the Pakistani province closest to the tribal belt where most of those strikes have occurred said its very first resolution will target the strikes.

Pervez Khattak, the man designated to be chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly the North West Frontier Province, or NWFP), said the first resolution to be taken by the province’s new legislative assembly would condemn drone attacks and distance Pakistan “from its alliance with the U.S. in the war on terror.”

Khattak belongs to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (“Movement for Justice”), the opposition party which in the May 11 election won the most seats in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and so will govern the province, in coalition with two smaller parties – one Islamist and one Pashtun nationalist.

PTI officials told local media the party expects the drone resolution to pass unanimously.

Days before the vote, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) national leader Imran Khan told a campaign rally that if elected, he would order the military to shoot down American drones that enter Pakistani airspace.

PTI came in third overall in the national poll, which was won by the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Prime Minister-designate Nawaz Sharif.

Like Khan, Sharif has been a strong critic of the use of drones – which the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government criticized publicly but covertly consented to – although the PML-N has distanced itself from calls to shoot down the unmanned aircraft.

A PML-N leader, Khawaja Saad Rafique, told reporters that the government would use diplomatic means in a bid to get the U.S. to stop drone strikes. While the Pakistani military was capable of shooting them down, doing so would have an adverse effect on the entire nation, Rafique said.

Recent reports by the International Crisis Group and the New America Foundation say there have been 350-355 drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions since 2004.

According to a New America Foundation database, the number of drone strikes in Pakistan spiked in 2010, reaching 122 that year. Only 12 have been reported this year so far.

Obama in his National Defense University speech Thursday signaled a drawdown in the use of drones, arguing that “the core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat” and saying he wanted to refine and eventually repeal the Authorization to Use Military Force.

“Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” he said. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”

‘Peace’ talks again mulled

Along with their common opposition to drone strikes, Sharif and Khan have also both expressed a desire to negotiate a peace deal with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a grouping of militants also known as the “Pakistani Taliban” and allied to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

The recent election campaign was marked by TTP violence that killed dozens of people, although in its attacks and its public statements the terrorist group did not target either Sharif’s PML-N or Khan’s PTI.

The Obama administration designated TTP as a “foreign terrorist organization” in 2010.

Previous attempts by Pakistani leaders to make peace with the TTP and its precursor groups in the tribal belt and what was then the NWFP failed dismally, leading to escalated violence on both sides of the border – including violence targeting U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Some of these include:

--In 2006, then military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf hammered out an agreement with militants, including TTP precursors, a deal that included government recognition of an “Islamic emirate” in the tribal belt’s Waziristan. NATO soon reported an upsurge in violence in Afghanistan, and the agreement eventually ended in the aftermath of the mid-2007 storming by security forces of an Islamist-held mosque in Islamabad.

--Another peace initiative in 2008 covered several tribal areas and the NWFP region of Swat. Imprisoned militants were freed, shari’a implementation was approved and other concessions made, but violence resumed and the deal collapsed.

--In February 2009, the then-NWFP government negotiated a peace deal with TTP elements in Swat, permitting them to enforce shari’a in the area in return for an end to a two-year campaign of violence. At a national level, President Asif Ali Zardari won parliamentary backing to endorse the deal.

But once again the truce was short-lived. TTP fighters moved beyond Swat into surrounding districts and the central government, under pressure from the U.S., launched a military offensive in late April, eventually forcing a retreat.

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