After nearly a month, the unmanned Predators operated by the CIA returned to North Waziristan on Sunday to fire four missiles on an abandoned school in Miramshah were four foreign terrorists were allegedly hiding.
Pakistan was quick to protest. In a statement issued after midnight, the Foreign Office said drone strikes were in total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations. Pointing out that Pakistan has consistently maintained that drone attacks were violative of its territorial integrity and sovereignty, the statement said the matter would be taken up through diplomatic channels both in Islamabad and Washington.
On Monday, U.S. Political Counsellor Jonathan Pratt was summoned to the Foreign Office by Director General (Americas) to formally lodge a protest over the drone strikes. Though the issue has been raised with the Americans, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani reiterated Pakistan's stated position on the issue but also pointed out that Parliament's guidelines for re-engaging with the U.S. called for expelling all foreign fighters from Pakistani soil.
Local media reports suggest that the terrorists killed in the attack were foreigners, though there appeared to be some confusion over their nationalities. While one set of reports claimed they were Arabs, others identified the terrorists as Uzbek and Tajik. The school in which they were said to have been present was closed down some time ago after a part of the building was bombed by terrorists.
Drone attacks have been a hotly debated issue in Pakistan with repeated efforts by Islamabad at the civil and military levels to convince Washington against using them. However, documents released by WikiLeaks have shown that the drones visit Pakistan with the tacit support of both the civilian and military leaderships as there is a not-so-public acknowledgement that the unmanned Predators have been successful in taking out terrorists.
This is the first time in over a year that an American diplomat has been summoned to the Foreign Office over the drone issue; the last such instance being on April 14, 2011, when Ambassador Cameron Munter was conveyed a strong protest by then Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir. In fact, since that day the Foreign Office had not issued any suo motu statement against drone attacks either though attacks continued and the official position remained unchanged.
The sharp response this time round is, therefore, being seen as an attempt by Pakistan to dig its heels in as the two sides renegotiate their terms of engagement after frost settled on the relationship following the NATO attack on a Pakistan Army outpost along the border with Afghanistan on November 26.