DIPLOMACY

Obama silent on call by Pakistan to stop drones

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 12:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 3:56am

US President Barack Obama has promised to consider Pakistan's concerns in post-war Afghanistan, but was silent on a call by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to end drone strikes.

Obama welcomed Sharif to the White House after releasing US$1.6 billion in aid, mostly for the military, that had been blocked following tensions over the 2011 raid that killed al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

With United States forces leaving Afghanistan next year, Obama pledged to brief Sharif and to work towards an Afghanistan that was "stable and secure, its sovereignty respected".

"I'm confident that, working together, we can achieve a goal that is good for Afghanistan, but also helps to protect Pakistan over the long term," Obama said.

Many Afghans view Pakistan suspiciously due to its past support for the Taliban regime, which was toppled in the US-led invasion.

In a joint statement, Sharif and Obama urged the Taliban to join talks on a peace agreement with the Afghan government , an initiative that quickly faltered after a first step in June.

But on a discordant note, Sharif urged an end to the US campaign of drone strikes against extremists. The attacks have infuriated many Pakistanis, who see them as violations of the country's sovereignty.

Sharif called for greater counterterrorism co-operation with Washington, but said: "I also brought up the issue of drones in our meeting, emphasising the need for an end to such strikes."

Obama did not mention drones and the two leaders did not take questions.

Despite the public posturing, Pakistan's military is widely assumed to be complicit in the drone strikes.

This assumption was bolstered ahead of the meeting by report in The Washington Post on secret documents that it said confirmed that Pakistan tacitly approved US strikes and sometimes even picked targets.

Pakistani diplomatic memos showed that the US Central Intelligence Agency had drafted documents to share information on drone attacks with Pakistan. At least 65 drone strikes were marked for discussion with Pakistan, including through briefings at its embassy in Washington and in materials sent physically to senior officials in Islamabad.

In one case in 2010, a document describes hitting a location "at the request of your government". Another file referred to a joint effort to pick targets.

The newspaper covered several years of frequent attacks until 2011, well before Sharif's election in May.