United States Senator Carl Levin, the influential and much respected chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, has blasted the Pakistani government for its hypocrisy in privately condoning the US predator drone attacks to eliminate the terrorists in meetings with American officials, and then publicly condemning them as a violation of that country's sovereignty.
Levin made these remarks during an interaction with the media following his remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations on The Way Forward in Afghanistan. He argued that these public protestations were a bigger problem than Pakistan's expectation that since the US may exit Afghanistan next July, it effectively constrains the US to accept Pakistan's concept of what Afghanistan ought to look like after the withdrawal of American troops. Islamabad's priority clearly is to minimise or eliminate any Indian influence in Afghanistan, even more than a continuing Al Qaeda presence in that country, he said.
Levin said, "The bigger problem in Pakistan is the public reaction to the drone attacks, whether they're accurate or inaccurate. And that is creating a major greater problem for us than overcoming the false reaction to the setting of a date to begin reduction of US troops in Afghanistan."
"The drone attacks, when they are aimed at -- and they are aimed, obviously, at military targets, targets of people who are out to kill us next door, I believe are legitimate," he said. "You can attack your enemy, and if they're out -- wherever they're hiding, if they're out to kill you."
Levin asserted that in such a situation, "You can go after them unless there is a very, very strong opposition to it on the part of a country where those targets are present," and argued, "Like we went to Afghanistan; we didn't ask the permission of Afghanistan to go after the Al Qaeda -- they were there."
"Now we're in Afghanistan and we're fighting, and whether you agree with what we're doing or not, we are there. People who are attacking us are coming across the border; in many instances, not exclusively, from Pakistan."
Levin reiterated, "It is legitimate to target the people who are targeting you."
"Now, the reaction inside of Pakistan is due -- first of all, there's a significant improvement in accuracy (of taking out terrorists with the drone attacks) and the foreign minister of Pakistan acknowledged this yesterday to me," he said, noting Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's meeting with him in Washington.
Levin acknowledged that "there are mistakes made, but there is a huge improvement in the accuracy and the reduction of mistakes," although it was true whenever there was collateral damage and civilians were killed, "we pay a price," in terms of reaching out to the hearts and minds of the general populace.
So, he agreed that "there's a price, and so you've got to weigh your price," but said, "I've got to tell you, I've been critical of the Pakistan government for publicly going after us when we are accurately hitting somebody, where it's the Haqqanis or whether it's the -- whoever it is."
Levin complained that "when we are accurate, there is still public criticism," and said that "I have a real problem with the Pakistan government publicly attacking us when we accurately hit a target, when it is clear that they don't object. Privately they don't object."
He said, "They object when we make mistakes. Then they do," and recalled the recent drone attack that had killed three Pakistani troopers, after which the Pakistan government had halted trucks carrying material for NATO troops in Afghanistan from crossing the border.
"I mean, when we hit some Pakistani troops by mistake, apparently, the other day, and there's a strong blow-back on that, which is understandable," Levin said. "But it's when a mistake is not made, when a target is hit accurately that I've got problems with the public attack, which then creates that huge animosity against us when it is, number one, done with at least the acquiescence of the Pakistani government, and number two, when they are failing to go after those targets."
And, once again, in echoing his consistent criticism that the Pakistan government was going after only the terrorist groups that were a threat to them and not groups like the Afghan Taliban, whom the Inter Services Intelligence assists to maintain instability in Afghanistan and for strategic depth against any Indian influence in that country, Levin said, "They've gone after some terrorist targets inside Pakistan, but the ones they've gone after are the ones that threaten the Pakistan government."
The lawmaker said, "They haven't gone after the Haqqanis, they haven't gone after the Quetta Shura. Those folks are attacking across the border."
Levin added that Pakistan has a responsibility "to go after them, and they haven't carried out that responsibility."