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Continued: US scales down drone program in Pakistan, tightens targeting in response to criticism

  • Article by: KATHY GANNON , Associated Press
  • Last update: July 25, 2013 - 12:44 PM

Pakistan's request that drone technology be transferred to the country is a non-starter because of U.S. fear that highly classified information would make its way to China, a close ally of Islamabad.

U.S. officials often point to Pakistan's failure to shoot down the slow-flying drones as evidence that they aren't sincere in wanting the program to stop, although this would likely cause a huge crisis in relations between the two countries. They also point to the failure of Pakistan to push the issue aggressively with the United Nations or other international organizations.

But some U.S. officials are worried that Pakistan's new civilian leaders, especially Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, may spark a crisis over the drone program. Khan said this month that Pakistan has conveyed to the U.S. that the drone strikes could lead to a "direct standoff" and "could have serious implications on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, as well as the post-withdrawal scenario," according to Pakistan's state news agency.

The U.S. military is trucking much of its equipment out of landlocked Afghanistan through Pakistan. Some Pakistani lawmakers have previously advocated preventing the U.S. from using the route unless they stop drone strikes.

Senior Pakistani civilian and military officials have publicly criticized U.S. drone attacks in the past while consenting to them in private. The officials and some rights activists have also claimed the attacks have killed large numbers of civilians, an allegation disputed by the U.S. The comments have whipped up overwhelming levels of opposition to drones among the Pakistani public.

Huma Yusuf, a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, wrote on Monday that the current Pakistani government is well-positioned to address the issue of drone strikes "because it does not carry the baggage of almost a decade of 'drone duplicity.'"

"As a good first step Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he will not privately sanction strikes while publicly condemning them," wrote Yusuf. "Going beyond routine condemnations, Sharif must now articulate a clear demand regarding drone strikes to take advantage of coalescing pressure."

____

Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann and AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report from Washington.

____

Gannon is special regional correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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