Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has for the first time said that former military ruler Pervez Musharraf approved the controversial surveillance flights by US drones which later started targeting terrorists in the country's lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
During an interaction with the Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Pakistan, Gilani indicated that the permission to operate drones inside Pakistan was given by the previous regime of President Pervez Musharraf.
The permission had been given "much earlier" for reconnaissance and surveillance flights by spy planes and "it was never given" for attacks, he said when asked why Pakistan is not seeking an apology for US drone attacks in its volatile tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
Gilani also denied reports that US drones were operating from an airbase at Jacobabad in Sindh province. He reiterated his stance that drone attacks are counter-productive as they undo the work done by his government and the army to separate tribesmen from the Taliban fighters.
The drone attacks unite the tribesmen and militants, he said. Earlier, Musharraf, who is currently living in self-imposed exile in London, condemned the surge in US drone strikes late last month.
"Within Pakistan there is sensitivity of the people of Pakistan. We have got forces to deal with any situation and if action needs to be taken the West should realise that they should equip the Pakistan army or air force," he had said.
Gilani also said that the US should transfer drone technology to Pakistan or it should share credible and actionable intelligence so that the Pakistani military can take action against the militants.
In recent weeks, the US has significantly increased drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas, which it calls the global headquarters of al-Qaeda and dreaded Haqqani network. Over 160 people have been killed in more than two dozen missile attacks since early September in the region.
There were 23 drone strikes last month and 16 this month.
Among those killed include a British terror suspect who was to head al-Qaeda group in the UK 'The Islamic Army of Great Britain' and was tasked to carry out Mumbai-style attacks on London, Paris and other European cities.
More than 1,100 people have been killed in over 140 US drone missile strikes in the area since August 2008.