President Zardari calls on America to provide arsenal of drones and missiles to target militants
Pakistan’s president has called on America to provide his country with an arsenal of drones and missiles to target militants blamed for a wave of violence rather than carrying out independent operations that violate the nation’s sovereignty. In an interview with The Independent, Asif Ali Zardari said Pakistan had made it clear that it was willing to “take out high-value targets on our own, and we welcome the technology and intelligence assistance that will give us the ability to succeed”. He added: “I cannot condone violations of our sovereignty even when they are done by allies and friends. We would much prefer that the US share its intelligence and give us the drones and missiles that will allow us to take care of this problem on our own.”
Mr Zardari’s comments, made in a wide-ranging interview in which for the first time he conceded more than one of the 10 militants who carried out the Mumbai attacks may be Pakistani, came as senior US officials visited Islamabad and called for greater trust between the two countries. The Obama administration’s regional envoy, Richard Holbrooke, said: “The United States and Pakistan face a common strategic threat, a common enemy and a common challenge and therefore a common task.” Pakistan is confronted by a fresh spike in militant violence. Hundreds of people have been killed and wounded in recent weeks and a senior Pakistani Taliban leader has vowed that his suicide bombers will carry out two attacks every week.
Ironically, the wave of violence, believed to have been carried out by militants loyal to the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, has been seen as a response to an escalation by the US in the number of missile attacks launched against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas using pilotless drones. Mr Mehsud told journalists his recent operations were a direct act of revenge. Pakistan is under intense pressure to deal with the militants, especially those blamed for cross-border raids against Western troops in Afghanistan. Despite public denials, it is understood Pakistan co-operates with the US drone strikes. But there is little doubt that such tactics are increasingly unpopular with the Pakistani public.
Mr Zardari said: “President Obama once said that he would act if we weren’t willing and able. We certainly are willing and with international support we will become even more able.” The President also acknowledged that more than a year after elections, many in Pakistan are growing frustrated with a seeming lack of progress. “After a decade of dictatorship the people had enormous expectations of rapid improvement in their lives. That is still very much our priority but the enormity of the economic crisis both within Pakistan and internationally, compounded by the war that we fight within and along our borders, has made progress much slower than we hoped.”
Asked about the disputes between his party and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N at a time when many hoped the country’s democratic parties would be working together, he said: “The ups and downs of democracy should not be interpreted as a lack of stability ... There is the usual tug of power politics and the tendency of some observers to paint Doomsday scenarios. But I think the people appreciate that our democratic government is functioning.” He claimed Pakistan was co-operating with India’s investigation into November’s Mumbai attacks that left 164 people dead and that a “substantial” number of arrests had been made. He said those responsible were also threatening the “very existence” of his country.