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'Pak could shoot down US drones if it wanted to'

February 05, 2013 10:48 IST

Indicating a tacit understanding between Islamabad and Washington over drone strikes, a United States scholar has said the Pakistan government has now publicly asked the US administration to stop drone strikes, but has not taken any measure against it.

In fact, the Pakistani government continues to clear the air space whenever the United States asks them to do so for their drone strikes, Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations -- a Washington-based think-tank -- told reporters on Monday during a conference call ahead of the Congressional confirmation hearing of the new Central Intelligence Agency director later this week.

"Although the Pakistanis do not acknowledge the strikes any longer, the US simply tells them in advance the boxes, as they are called, which is the areas they fly in, and then Pakistan deconflicts the airspace, meaning they don't put any planes in that area," Zenko said.

"So the governments where these strikes occur know they are going to happen, and this is all done through a sort of painstaking diplomatic process over the years. The distinction is that now in Pakistan, the government has asked the United States to stop, but they have not taken the steps," he said.

"For example, the Pakistani military could shoot down US drones tomorrow if they wanted to. So the Pakistani government has not taken the steps to end drone strikes, but they have requested repeatedly that they stop," Zenko said in response to a question.

While top US officials, including President Barack Obama, have acknowledged the existence of drone strikes in Pakistan, US officials have observed a muted silence.

"In Pakistan, the US ambassador to Pakistan cannot acknowledge the US conduct drone strike. Drones are the face of US foreign policy in Pakistan, and the individual who serves as the chief of mission to represent the United States cannot defend or justify them," he said.

"There was one really clumsy incident last October when the then serving ambassador was asked about reports from the NYU-Stanford study, which said that individuals living in the FATA region of Pakistan hated hearing US drones buzzing overhead all the time," Zenko said.

The US ambassador denied the reports, saying the drones fly at such a high altitude that they can't be seen or heard, the scholar added.

Lalit K Jha In Islamabad
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