Pakistan on Thursday condemned drone strikes on its soil as violations of sovereignty, after U.S. officials suggested Washington might ramp them up against Afghan Taliban taking refuge inside Pakistan. The foreign ministry statement also came a day after Pakistan said its forces had shot down an Iranian drone near its southwestern border with Iran. Washington claims Islamabad provides safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and other militants fighting the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, something Pakistan strongly denies. U.S. officials told Reuters this week Washington was hardening its stance towards Pakistan, and a new policy on Afghanistan could see an increase in drone attacks. “Our position is that drone strikes are counter-productive and violate the sovereignty of Pakistan,” foreign ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria said on Thursday in response to the Reuters report.
The United States has been carrying out attacks against militants on Pakistani territory for more than a decade. Islamabad has repeatedly condemned such strikes in public, but U.S. diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks in 2011 suggested the Pakistani military tacitly approved of the drone programme. U.S. drone strikes have slowed to a trickle in the past 18 months. Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in U.S. assistance since 2002, but some aid was withheld last year because of Washington’s dissatisfaction with Islamabad’s actions against militants.
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U.S. officials have said the Trump administration is also considering withholding some assistance.
“Pakistan attaches importance to its relationship with the U.S.,” Zakaria said. “We firmly believe that continued close cooperation between our two countries is critical for promoting peace and security in the region and beyond.” On Wednesday, Pakistan said it shot down an an unmanned Iranian drone flying over its southwestern Baluchistan province. The incident followed warnings by Tehran that it would strike against Islamist militants who hid in Pakistan and carried out cross-border attacks.
Ten Iranian border guards were killed by militants in April. Iran said Jaish al Adl, a Sunni Islamist militant group, had shot them from inside Pakistan. The border area has long been plagued by both drug smuggling gangs and separatist militants. “Pakistan has already shared the information about striking down of this drone with the Iranian authorities indicating that the drone was struck down by our security forces as it was unmarked and there was no prior information about its flight,” the Pakistan foreign ministry said.