PRESIDENT Obama’s public acknowledgment of drone strikes on Pakistani territory may have lifted the official veil on the ‘covert’ programme, but it was hardly a revelation. It has, however, put the Pakistani administration in an embarrassing position. While in response the Pakistan Foreign Office has called the strikes “unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable”, the fact is that Obama’s claim has only further exposed a glaring instance of doublespeak on the part of successive Pakistani governments and military leaderships that have supported drone strikes in private conversations with the US and taken no military or diplomatic action against them despite opposing them publicly. Deployed in a cooperative framework drones can be an important weapon of war, but by trying to have it both ways — benefiting from the elimination of militants and at the same time pandering to anti-US sentiments — Pakistan has unnecessarily politicised the option. The same goes for the US, which has not developed more transparent rules of engagement for the operation of drones.
Unofficial reports emerging from both Pakistan and the US have indicated that the two countries are looking for a more transparent, clear-cut relationship going forward. In that context, President Obama’s acknowledgment of drone strikes is an opportunity. As parliament devises a new framework for the Pakistan-US relationship, it has a chance to come clean before the nation on the issue. But there is reason for doubting that this will happen.
For one, the government has painted itself into a corner with the policy of tacit approval and public denial that it borrowed from the Musharraf administration