ASPEN, Colo. – Pakistan's ambassador to the United States says her country will not relent from demanding that the CIA end its drone strikes.
In a debate with White House war adviser Douglas Lute at the Aspen Security Forum, Sherry Rehman said drone attacks have damaged al-Qaida but are now only serving to recruit new militants.
"I am not saying drones have not assisted in the war against terror, but they have diminishing rate of returns," Rehman said by video teleconference from Washington.
With Pakistan's spy chief, Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, expected to hold his first meeting with CIA Director David Petraeus at CIA headquarters in Virginia next week, the ambassador said, "We will seek an end to drone strikes and there will be no compromise on that."
Lute would not comment on the drone program. U.S. officials have said privately that it will continue because Pakistan has proved incapable or unwilling to target militants the U.S. considers dangerous.
A long-sought U.S. apology to Pakistan over a deadly border incident cleared the way to restart counterterrorism talks. In addition to the end to drone strikes, Pakistani officials say they will ask the U.S. to feed intelligence gathered by the pilotless aircraft to Pakistani jets and ground forces so they can target militants.
While neither side expects much progress, officials from both countries see the return to dialogue as a chance to repair a relationship dented by a series of incidents that damaged trust on both sides. U.S. officials remain angry over what they say is Pakistan's support of Taliban groups, including the militant Haqqani network, that the U.S. contends are taking shelter in Pakistan's tribal areas and attack troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
But Rehman dismissed as "outrageous" the claim that Pakistan is harboring al-Qaida or other militants who intend to harm the U.S. She said Pakistan's army was working hard to combat the militants, including reporting 52 times to NATO in recent months when militants were spotted crossing into Afghan territory.
"Pakistan is maxed out on the international border with Afghanistan," she said.
"Sovereignty has privileges but also comes with responsibilities," countered Lute who called for Pakistan to step up its efforts and to cease "hedging its bets" by supporting the Afghan Taliban.
The two did agree, however, that Pakistan could help broker an eventual peace deal with the Taliban.
When asked why the Taliban would surrender ahead of the 2014 drawdown of U.S. troops, Lute said a recent security agreement with Afghanistan ensures a long-term U.S. commitment to Afghan security.
"The agreement we've made with Afghanistan signals to Taliban that they can't wait us out," Lute said. "If they want another decade of this, to get hammered every day and every night," U.S. and Afghan forces can provide.
If the Taliban are willing to disarm and respect the laws of the Afghan government, "the door will remain open to negotiation," Lute said.
A major grievance for Pakistan remains last year's U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil. The operation was conducted without Pakistan's permission.
Rehman defended Pakistan's arrest of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who has been sentenced to more than three decades in prison for aiding the CIA in tracking down bin Laden. Afridi conducted a vaccine program in the military town where the terrorist mastermind turned out to be hiding.
U.S. lawmakers have threatened to halt millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan unless Afridi is released, in recognition of his contribution. Afridi is appealing his sentence.
"He had no clue he was looking for Osama bin Laden," Rehman countered. "He was contracting with a foreign intelligence agency."
She added that Afridi's actions put thousands of children at risk because some vaccine programs had to be ended after Pakistani aid workers were targeted by the Taliban.
Aspen Security Forum: http://aspensecurityforum.org
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