Tortured ties

When Sharif meets Obama, the issue of drone strikes will be on his mind.

On October 23, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have an important meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington. Exactly one year ago, US-Pakistan relations started to recover from the big blows that the Osama bin Laden raid, the Raymond Davis affair and the Salala attack (when NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers by mistake) had dealt. In retaliation, Pakistan had closed the NATO supply lines to Afghanistan in November 2011, while the US suspended a large proportion of its financial support to Islamabad (and Rawalpindi). The supply lines were reopened in July last year in exchange of a $1 billion payment in arrears.

But other problems remained, including drone strikes. During the 2013 election campaign, opposition parties mainly Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Nawaz Sharif's PML-N accused the PPP-led government of undermining the sovereignty of Pakistan by permitting such strikes. Despite Sharif's electoral success, these strikes have continued. This year, till September 30, about 20 drone attacks have taken place in the FATA (mostly in North Waziristan), according to the New American Foundation, a US-based institution.

In August, John Kerry, who has always supported better US-Pakistan relations, as evident from his role in passing the Kerry-Lugar-Berman act of 2009, paid a discreet visit to Islamabad to announce that the drone strikes would end "very soon". He also said he was hopeful of a "deeper, broader and more comprehensive partnership". In fact, drone strikes in the FATA may well remain on the US's agenda. There is a good reason: Washington is shifting from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism in the Af-Pak region. It is transitioning to this technique (which Joe Biden had advocated as early as 2009) in Afghanistan, where the US might leave not more than 9,000 to 10,000 soldiers in 2014 if the talks with Hamid Karzai fructify. And the Pentagon and the CIA are all for the same technique in the FATA, where their targets remain al-Qaeda leaders still in hiding.

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