Feb 26, 2009

Pakistan pushes US for drones

Pakistan's foreign minister said Wednesday that his country has asked the United States to provide unmanned planes that would allow Pakistan to strike extremists hiding in rugged terrain along the Afghan border.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in an Associated Press interview with reporters and editors that Pakistan, and not the United States, should control the missile strikes that have killed high-level extremists but also civilians.
The US missile strikes, he said, are alienating the Pakistani people and making it harder for his government to persuade locals to support the fight against militants.
‘We feel that if the technology is transferred to Pakistan, Pakistan will be in a better position to determine how to use the technology and, without alienating people, achieve the objective,’ he said.
‘Pakistan is a willing partner with the US in this fight,’ he said. ‘Let us exercise that judgment.’
The US missiles are fired from drones believed launched from neighboring Afghanistan. The strikes are one of the most sensitive issues in US-Pakistan ties.
Qureshi said the matter was raised Tuesday in a meeting with President Barack Obama's national security adviser, retired Gen. James Jones. He would not provide specific details; ‘we are talking at this stage,’ he said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs would not comment on Qureshi's comments Wednesday.
Qureshi also said the Obama White House is more ‘willing to listen’ to Pakistan than the Bush administration.
The Bush administration initially was a strong supporter of the current Pakistani government's predecessor, former President Pervez Musharraf, calling the former general ‘indispensable.’ Musharraf took power in a bloodless 1999 coup but was swept from power in democratic elections by the current government.
The Bush administration, Qureshi said, ‘had a point of view, and it was like the approach was, 'this is it; take it or leave it.’’
He called the Obama administration's approach ‘more understanding and more endearing.’
Qureshi and Pakistan's army chief are in Washington to participate, along with Afghan Foreign Minister Dadfar Rangeen Spanta, in the Obama administration's efforts to draw up a new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Qureshi and Spanta were scheduled to have dinner Wednesday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the United States wants ‘this review to be as inclusive as possible. The White House is reaching out to everybody with a stake in this.’
‘It won't just be window dressing: take a look at our plan and sign off on it when it's already virtually completed,’ he said. ‘We are all collectively in this, and we need as much advice and buy-in as possible for this to be a succeed.’
On the Obama administration's drone strikes, Qureshi called for Pakistan and the United States to ‘reassess the advantages and disadvantages, and, if the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, there is a case to review this strategy.’

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