ISLAMABAD (TIP): US secretary of state John Kerry told Pakistanis on August 1 that Washington planned to end drone strikes in their country soon – a message aimed at removing a major source of anti-American resentment in the strategically important country. After meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Kerry said they had agreed to reestablish a “full partnership”, hoping to end years of acrimony over the drone strikes and other grievances including the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
In a television interview later, Kerry said of the drone strikes: “I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it.” “I think the president has a very real timeline and we hope it’s going to be very, very soon,” he told Pakistan Television, when asked whether the US had a timeline for ending drone strikes, aimed at militants in Pakistan. US drone missiles have targeted areas near the Afghan border including North Waziristan, the main stronghold for various militant groups aligned with al-Qaida and the Taliban, since 2004.
Pakistanis have been angered by reports of civilian casualties and what they see as an abuse of their sovereignty. It is unclear if, in their face-to-face talks, Sharif asked Kerry to halt the drone attacks. But when asked at a news conference whether Pakistan wanted the US to curtail the strikes, his foreign affairs adviser, Sartaj Aziz, replied: “We are asking them to stop it, not just curtail it.”
Besides the drones and the killing of bin Laden in 2011, relations have been strained by Pakistan’s support for Taliban insurgents fighting Western troops in Afghanistan as well as a NATO air attack in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. “I want to emphasize the relationship is not defined simply by the threats we face, it is not only a relationship about combating terrorism, it is about supporting the people of Pakistan, particularly helping at this critical moment for Pakistan’s economic revival,” Kerry told reporters.
A new government in Pakistan and a new secretary of state in Washington have increased hopes the two sides can settle their grievances – something both hope to gain from, with Pakistan’s economy badly needing support and the United States aiming to withdraw the bulk of its troops from Afghanistan next year. Speaking after talks with Sharif in Islamabad, Kerry – who as a senator sponsored legislation to provide $7 billion in assistance to Pakistan over 5 years – said he had invited Sharif to visit the United States, Pakistan’s biggest donor, for talks with President Barack Obama.
“What was important today was that there was a determination … to move this relationship to the full partnership that it ought to be, and to find the ways to deal with individual issues that have been irritants over the course of the past years,” he said. “And I believe that the Prime Minister is serious about doing that. And I know that President Obama is also.”