The news that the U.S. intends to continue drone strikes on Pakistani soil despite unanimously approved new guidelines from Pakistan's parliament was prominently reported in Pakistan's largest English-language newspaper, The News International, on Saturday. -- In the U.S. the news was mostly confined to two wire reports. -- In the first, Kimberly Dozier of AP noted that "It is not the first time the U.S. has ignored Pakistan's parliament, which demanded an end to drone strikes in 2008. What is different now is that the Pakistani government is in a more fragile political state and can continue no longer its earlier practice of quietly allowing the U.S. action while publicly denouncing it." -- In the second, Mark Hosenball of Reuters reported only that a U.S. official had said that a "reduction in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan in recent months reflects success in targeting senior al Qaeda operatives and forcing militants 'underground.'" -- Meanwhile, in another underreported case, a Pakistani human rights lawyer representing civilian victims of drone strikes, Shahzad Akbar, "accused the U.S. government of blocking his appearance at a [late-April] conference in Washington this month by failing to grant him a visa," the London Guardian said. -- Karen McVeigh reported that "Akbar said that U.S. drones are so prevalent in the tribal area of Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, that there are four or five hovering in the air at any one time. The children call them bangana, because of the noise they make." -- Shahzad Akbar said that "by blocking his trip to Washington, the U.S. authorities were preventing him revealing the true impact of the drones strategy. 'I wanted to tell American people about the human stories behind these strikes,' he said. 'These are the people who will choose the next American president and what they decide will have far-reaching implications around the world. They think the American war on terror is making America safe, but it is not making America safe. It is creating enemies." ...1.
DRONE STRIKES TO CONTINUE: U.S. OFFICIALS
The News International (Pakistan)
April 14, 2012
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. officials have claimed that the United States has no intentions to stop drone strikes on Pakistani soil.
The U.S. newspaper, citing officials, has claimed that drones strikes will continue against militants and their hideouts in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the White House is considering to issue an official apology over Salala check post attack that resulted in the martyrdom of 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The joint sitting of the Parliament Thursday approved the recommendations presented by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) in connection with the terms of engagement with U.S. and matters relating to the national security of Pakistan.
Earlier, reading out the 'revised report' of the PCNS from the floor of the Parliament, the Committee's Chairman Senator Raza Rabbani said: "The relationship with USA should be based on mutual respect for each other's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity."
He said Pakistan's sovereignty 'shall not be compromised'.
Rabbani said the U.S. footprint in Pakistan must be reviewed, calling for an immediate cessation of drone attacks and infiltration into Pakistani territory on any pretext including hot-pursuit.
He said Pakistani territory including its airspace shall not be used for transportation of arms and ammunition to Afghanistan.
Pakistan nuclear program and assets including their security will not be compromised, he continued.
"The U.S.-Indo agreement on civil nuclear agreement has significantly altered the strategic balance in the region," he said, adding, therefore Pakistan should seek from U.S. another similar facility.
"Pakistan reaffirms its commitment to the elimination of terrorism and combating extremism in pursuance of its national interests."
He said the government of Pakistan should seek an unconditional apology from the U.S. on the unprovoked incident of Salala attack dated 25th-26th November 2011 in Mohmand Agency which claimed lives of 24 Pakistani soldiers.
"Those held responsible for the Mohmand Agency attack should be brought to justice," he said, adding Pakistan should be given assurances that such attacks or any other attacks impinging on Pakistan's sovereignty will not reoccur.
He said no verbal agreement regarding national security shall be made with any foreign government or authority and all such agreements and understandings shall cease to exist forthwith.
Raza Rabbani said no overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be committed.
U.S. OFFICIALS: DRONE STRIKES WILL GO ON IN PAKISTAN
By Kimberly Dozier
April 13, 2012
WASHINGTON -- The White House has no intention to end CIA drone strikes against militant targets on Pakistani soil, U.S. officials say, possibly setting the two countries up for diplomatic tensions after Pakistan's parliament unanimously approved new guidelines for the country's troubled relationship with the United States.
U.S. officials say they will work in coming weeks and months to find common ground with Pakistan, but if a suspected terrorist target comes into the laser sights of a CIA drone's hellfire missiles, they will take the shot.
It is not the first time the U.S. has ignored Pakistan's parliament, which demanded an end to drone strikes in 2008. What is different now is that the Pakistani government is in a more fragile political state and can continue no longer its earlier practice of quietly allowing the U.S. action while publicly denouncing it, Pakistani officials say.
The White House declined to comment. All other officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the high stakes diplomatic jockeying.
The parliament approved on Thursday recommendations intended to guide Pakistan's government in its negotiations to reset the U.S. relationship. The guidelines allow for the blockade on U.S. and NATO supplies to be lifted. The lawmakers demanded a halt to CIA-led missile attacks but did not make that a prerequisite to reopening the supply lines.
The relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. faltered after a series of incidents in 2011 that have damaged trust on both sides -- from the controversy over CIA security officer Ray Davis, who killed two Pakistani alleged assailants and was later released, to the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May, without Pakistani permission. But the arguable nadir in relations came in November, when U.S. forces returned fire they believed came from a Pakistani border post and killed 24 Pakistani troops.
Those incidents led to the ejection of U.S. military trainers who had worked closely with Pakistani counterinsurgent forces, slowed CIA drone strikes, and joint raids and investigations by Pakistan's intelligence service together with the CIA and FBI. The border incident led to the shutdown of border supply lines into Afghanistan, more than doubling the cost of shipping in supplies for the war effort.
A recent series of high-level U.S. military and State Department visits have produced backroom understandings on almost every issue except the drones, one former U.S. official briefed on the talks explained, with U.S. officials offering to negotiate some sort of payment to use the border crossing points, for instance. The White House also is considering issuing an official apology for the deadly border incident, two senior U.S. officials say, which would help ease Pakistani outrage and demonstrate the Pakistani government wrested at least one major concession from the U.S.
And while the U.S. has no intentions of stopping its CIA and FBI counterterrorist activities on Pakistani soil, the White House could take the step of withdrawing some of the staff for a few months until the spotlight is off the controversy, as it did last year after the Ray Davis incident, and again after the Bin Laden raid.
Still, neither side is budging on the drone issue, both U.S. and Pakistani officials say.
"The U.S. will continue to assume that protecting U.S. and Pakistani common interests, especially on counterterrorism matters, is valued by Islamabad," a U.S. official said.
In the meantime, the White House has raised the bar on whom the CIA is allowed to target, applying new limits and all but curtailing so-called "signature strikes" where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity.
The White House also explored whether giving Pakistan advance notice of the strikes could become the basis of a compromise to keep the operation going.
In exploratory counteroffers, Pakistani officials have suggested the U.S. "transfer ownership" of the drones to the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, flagging them as Pakistani aircraft, taking off from Pakistani air bases, two Pakistani officials say. The Pakistanis argue their public would react with less venom to errant strikes that hit Pakistani civilian targets than they do when such strikes are carried out by a foreign force. They point out the drone transmissions have to travel via U.S.-controlled satellites, giving U.S. officials a failsafe to terminate the Pakistani strikes at any time.
An alternate proposal put forward is that the U.S. better arm Pakistan's F-16 fleet, enabling the Pakistan air force to attack the targets. While Pakistani officials insist the jets have proven successful in the past, U.S. officials claim their shots flew wide of the mark, allowing some of the militant targets to escape.
There is little chance of that, with the mountain of evidence the U.S. has built up showing the Pakistani intelligence service's support of Afghan militants. A secret NATO report published in January obtained by the Associated Press, concluded that "the government of Pakistan remains intimately involved with the Taliban." Derived from interviews with captured Afghan militants, the report says "in meetings with Taliban leaders, ISI personnel are openly hostile to ISAF (the U.S. coalition, with ISI officers touting the need for "continued jihad and expulsion of `foreign invaders' from Afghanistan."
"We're floundering" on how to restore the relationship, said Bruce Riedel, former CIA official, and the man who helped the White House craft its policy to reconnect with Pakistan when President Barack Obama took office in 2009. The ISI's support of the Taliban shows that "engagement with the Pakistani government hasn't produced the change we'd hoped for."
SCALED-BACK PAKISTAN DRONE STRIKES REFLECT SUCCESS: U.S. OFFICIAL
By Mark Hosenball
April 13, 2012
A reduction in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan in recent months reflects success in targeting senior al Qaeda operatives and forcing militants "underground," a U.S. official said on Friday.
The United States suspended strikes by the unmanned aircraft in Pakistani borderlands for nearly two months late last year, partly to ease anger over a November 26 NATO air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and led Pakistan to close supply routes to U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.
Strikes in the border area of North Waziristan resumed in January, but the rate of attacks has been scaled back so far this year, U.S. officials said.
Pakistan's parliament on Thursday unanimously approved recommendations on the country's ties with the United States, including a demand to end the strikes.
Some U.S. officials say sensitivities in Pakistan have been factors considered when the United States decided whether to launch strikes, but others say a lack of targets has been a key reason behind the reduction of attacks.
"What's important is not the number or pace of strikes, but their effectiveness," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
"This year already an (al Qaeda) external-ops planner and another key Pakistani military ally have been taken off the battlefield," the official said.
"Another way to look at the number of strikes is to see this as the result of sustained and effective run of aggressive counter terrorism operations that have steadily degraded al Qaeda and its allies over the past several years."
Militant targets killed in strikes between late September and mid-October included a son of a blind Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence in the United States for plotting to attack New York City landmarks; and individuals Washington says were a subcommander in the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and two al Qaeda planners.
"From the end of September through October, al Qaeda and its militant allies experienced a series of significant losses," a senior U.S. official said.
"Within a matter of days, four significant targets were removed from the battlefield. After such successes, it is natural that important targets would go into even deeper hiding and it would take time to find them."
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who is now a foreign policy expert at Washington's Brookings Institution, said the U.S. administration was also fully aware of Pakistani concerns.
"It's . . . clear the administration knows the drone war is deeply unpopular in Pakistan and it needs to use them with greater care," he said.
"Now that the parliament formally has demanded they stop completely, the next drone attack sets up a showdown," he said. "Pakistan's finance minister visits Washington next week, the first cabinet visitor since last year. Will the drones fly?"
NATO has been seeking to persuade Pakistan to reopen its border crossings with Afghanistan, the closure of which has forced the alliance to use a costlier northern distribution route to get supplies to its troops.
The Pakistan government has yet to decide how to respond to parliament's recommendations. In a speech to parliament on Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minster Yusuf Raza Gilani did not say whether the NATO supply routes would be reopened.
(Writing by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Warren Strobel and David Brunnstrom)
LAWYER FOR VICTIMS OF CIA DRONE STRIKES IN PAKISTAN AGAIN DENIED ENTRY TO U.S.
By Karen McVeigh
** Supporters of Shahzah Akbar say the US is trying to silence his first-hand knowledge of civilian deaths along the Afghan border **
April 13, 2012
NEW YORK -- A lawyer representing civilian victims of drone strikes in Pakistan has accused the U.S. government of blocking his appearance at a conference in Washington this month by failing to grant him a visa.
Shahzad Akbar, who founded the Islamabad-based human rights organisation Foundation for Fundamental Rights, says he has failed to secure a visa since he began suing the CIA over the killing of Pakistani civilians by U.S. drones. The case is expected to be heard this month in Islamabad.
Sponsors of the drone summit Killing and Spying by Remote Control, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, and the peace group Code Pink, have criticized the failure to grant a visa to Akbar, who they say provides a much-needed voice for the victims of drone strikes in tribal Pakistan.
Speaking from Pakistan by telephone, Akbar said: "Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the U.S. government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women, and other civilians in this part of the world. The CIA, which operated the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people should have a right to know."
He was due to be a key speaker at the Washington conference on 28-29 April. It aims to "inform the American public about the widespread and rapidly expanding deployment of both lethal and surveillance drones, including drone use in the United States" and promised participants the opportunity to listen to the personal stories of Pakistani drone-strike victims, according to its website.
It is the second time that Akbar, who has been granted U.S. visas in the past, has tried and failed to enter the U.S. to speak at an event addressing human rights concerns over the use of drones.
Last year, he was invited to participate at a conference at Columbia University Law School in New York. His U.S. visa had expired three months earlier, but his application in May was effectively put on hold.
Despite renewed inquiries to the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad this year, he has not had an explanation for the delay of over a year. His last U.S. visa, issued in 2009, was processed in three working days, he said.
Although Akbar has travelled to the U.S. in the past and has worked for U.S. companies, he has not been granted permission to return since he began speaking out against drone attacks in his homeland in 2010.
Organizers of the drone summit described the failure of the U.S. to grant him a visa as "outrageous."
Cortney Busch, an investigator at Reprieve, said: "If the Obama administration continues to avoid discussion of its drones program, Shahzad Akbar must be allowed to tell the stories of the numerous victims he has met in order to give voice to a silenced community. Shahzad remains one of only a handful of people worldwide able to shed light on these clandestine CIA attacks. The U.S. must allow honest debate on a policy which is killing hundreds of civilians and straining relations between the U.S. and Pakistan."
Akbar's relationship with the U.S. "changed dramatically", he said, when he took on the case of Karim Khan, a journalist from North Waziristan. Khan's son, 18, a government employee, and brother, 35, a schoolteacher and father of a toddler, were killed when two missiles fired from what he believes was a CIA-operated drone struck his home in 2009.
In November, Akbar initiated legal notices against the CIA and the U.S. secretary of defense for their deaths. The legal case accuses, among others, Jonathan Banks, the CIA station chief in Islamabad, as being responsible for the deaths. Banks left the country in 2010 after the legal action blew his cover.
The subject of drone strikes is shrouded in secrecy because they are operated by the CIA. The Pakistani government criticizes them in public, but documents published by Wikileaks in 2008 revealed they are privately supported by officials.
In February, President Barack Obama said drone strikes are "kept on a very tight leash" and "have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties." However, a growing body of evidence, including that provided by Akbar, tells a different story.
A three-month investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, published days after Obama's comments, found that between 282 and 535 civilians, including 60 minors, have been credibly reported as killed as a result of drone strikes since Obama took office three years ago. It also found that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims.
Akbar said that U.S. drones are so prevalent in the tribal area of Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, that there are four or five hovering in the air at any one time. The children call them bangana, because of the noise they make.
According to Akbar, 95% of drone strikes in Pakistan happen in Waziristan, a sparsely populated area where many people work in transportation.
With his first-hand knowledge of the victims of the attacks, Akbar provides a challenge to the U.S. narrative of "precision strikes against high value targets."
"The U.S. is saying that there are almost no civilian deaths. I'm challenging that. I have 80 people that are all civilians. It can be proved that they are not terrorists or assisting terrorists. This is in spite of the hardships in getting into Waziristan."
He said that by blocking his trip to Washington, the U.S. authorities were preventing him revealing the true impact of the drones strategy.
"I wanted to tell American people about the human stories behind these strikes," he said. "These are the people who will choose the next American president and what they decide will have far-reaching implications around the world.
"They think the American war on terror is making America safe, but it is not making America safe. It is creating enemies. A huge number of people being killed in these strikes are civilians. These people have no justice, no system where they can file a claim if a child is killed. They are not terrorists. But you have terrorist in the area who tries to recruit people. These are the things people need to know. They need to push their lawmakers to stop this drone policy."
He plans to file public interest litigation, the equivalent of a judicial review, at the Peshawar high court next week on behalf of 80 families. Victims of the strikes include women and children, the youngest being seven, and one person in a wheelchair.
Akbar is challenging both the CIA and the Pakistani government over the use of drones.
"We are basically asking to clarify what Pakistan's role is. They say one thing in public and, we are learning from Wikileaks, another in private," he said. "They have a duty to protect their citizen. We want to push the Pakistan government to take this matter to the international criminal court or to the security council."
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