Pakistani Ambassador: U.S. Drone Strikes Cross a 'Red Line'

Ambassador says strikes are 'counterproductive' and 'a violation of international law.'

Pakistani women take part in a rally against the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistani tribal areas in Peshawar, Pakistan, April 23, 2011.
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The Pakistani government publicly and privately denounces America's use of drones within its borders, the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. said Tuesday, and sees it as a "red line" that has been crossed.

The U.S. has sent the unmanned aerial vehicles into Pakistani airspace hundreds of times in the last decade to target extremist militants. Civilians and children have been included among the thousands of reported kills. Sherry Rehman says the strikes are both illegal and counterproductive.

"We see them as a direct violation of our sovereignty. We also see them as a violation of international law," the ambassador said at a meeting with reporters Tuesday. Rehman would not elaborate on the Pakistani reaction if the U.S. continues with its current actions.

The U.S. has conducted 362 strikes in Pakistan since 2004, 310 of which have occurred during the Obama administration, according to data from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. As many as 3,461 people have been killed by the attacks, including as many as 891 civilian deaths, 176 of which were children.

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Every U.S. drone strike garners national attention in Pakistan through dozens of television outlets, says Rehman. Pakistanis view the attacks as a "negative and unfortunate" use of power that makes it difficult for the Pakistani government to build a public consensus in its relations with the U.S.

"Operationally, it is counterproductive because it creates more potential terrorists on the ground instead of taking them out," she says, adding public perception in Pakistan turns the attacks into a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations. "We need to drain the swamp."

Rehman denies accusations that Pakistan outwardly condemns the strikes, but is privately complicit in their effectiveness.

"There is no question of quiet complicity. There is no question of 'wink and nod.' This is a parliamentary 'red line' that all our government institutions have internalized as policy," says Rehman, who has been in her current position since the end of 2011. "I also say this as not just a policy that we say. It is important to us."

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"This is an anomaly that we are constantly addressing in all our conversations with the U.S. It certainly is not a part of our playbook," she says. "We don't want our engagements with the U.S. to be defined by that, or our operations."

Pakistan plays a key role in negotiations between the fledgling Afghan government and the United States, which plans to draw down its combat troops by the end of 2014. The Pakistani government announced Monday it is prepared to begin discussions with the Taliban, a militant political group that controlled Afghanistan prior to 2001 and has killed thousands of Pakistanis in continued fighting on both sides of the porous border between the two central Asian countries.

"There has to be a little more strategic sympathy for what Pakistan has done and continues to do," says Rehman.

The relationship between Pakistan and the United States has improved drastically in Rehman's limited tenure in Washington, she says, since the beginning of 2012 when diplomacy was "marked by chronic distrust."

That relationship is now "stable and on an upward trajectory," she says.

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Updated 02/05/13: This article originally used an alternative spelling of the Pakistani ambassador's name.