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Drones an issue as US, Pakistan seek to rebuild ties

Making up is never easy. But as Pakistan and the US try to restart their troubled relationship after a year of spectacular crises, the difference could come down to drones.

world Updated: Mar 19, 2012 23:44 IST

Making up is never easy. But as Pakistan and the US try to restart their troubled relationship after a year of spectacular crises, the difference could come down to drones.

For the Obama administration, facing a faltering war effort and increasingly distrustful allies in Afghanistan, the covert CIA drone strike campaign centred on North and South Waziristan has acquired new relevance.

Although the drones are best known for targeting senior commanders of Al Qaeda — two more were reported killed in January — they also play a vital role in combating cross-border infiltration from Taliban havens inside Pakistan. Of the 10 confirmed strikes so far this year, six hit vehicles filled with fighters that, in several cases, were headed for the Afghan border, a senior US official said.

Interviews with militants in those areas leave little doubt that the drones have disrupted their operations, driving fugitive leaders deeper into the mountains. But that matters little in mainstream Pakistan, where public discourse rings with thunderous condemnations of breached sovereignty and civilian casualties.

On Tuesday, President Asif Ali Zardari will convene a special sitting of Parliament that aims to improve his government’s strained ties with the US, which have been suspended since American warplanes killed 24 Pakistani troops on the Afghanistan border in November.

American officials say there is no question of grounding the unmanned aircraft.

New York Times