Pakistan Signed Secret ‘Protocol’ Allowing Drones

Despite new prime minister’s criticism, officials confirm that the Pakistani military and intelligence approved strikes.

In this undated handout image provided by EADS the Euro Hawk is seen in flight.
National Journal
Michael Hirsh
Oct. 23, 2013, 10:21 a.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ag­gress­ive drone pro­gram in Pakistan came un­der re­newed at­tack this week, with Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al sug­gest­ing that the United States is en­gaged in war crimes and vis­it­ing Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif de­scrib­ing the strikes as a “ma­jor ir­rit­ant” in re­la­tions.

But what is ob­scured by the pub­lic dis­pute is that there has been, since the ad­min­is­tra­tions of George W. Bush and Per­vez Mush­ar­raf, a secret agree­ment in place by which Pakistani mil­it­ary and in­tel­li­gence au­thor­it­ies have ap­proved many of the strikes, U.S. and Pakistani of­fi­cials say.

“The ex­act terms were nev­er shared with ci­vil­ians but there was a pro­tocol between the Mush­ar­raf gov­ern­ment and the Amer­ic­ans,” says a former seni­or Pakistani of­fi­cial who would dis­cuss the clas­si­fied mat­ter only on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity. “When the ci­vil­ian gov­ern­ment came in [in 2008], it was in­formed about it but there was no rene­go­ti­ation.”

Even so, this of­fi­cial told Na­tion­al Journ­al that ci­vil­ian lead­ers in Is­lamabad have made sporad­ic ef­forts to rene­go­ti­ate. “Both [former Pres­id­ent Asif Ali] Za­rdari and Sharif have ap­proached Wash­ing­ton to say, ‘Can we talk about it?’”

Sharif said he brought up the is­sue of drones in his White House meet­ing with Pres­id­ent Obama on Wed­nes­day, “em­phas­iz­ing the need for an end to such strikes.” The Wash­ing­ton Post also re­por­ted late Wed­nes­day that it had ob­tained top-secret CIA doc­u­ments and Pakistani dip­lo­mati c memos de­tail­ing deep co­oper­a­tion between the United States and Pakistan on drone tar­get­ing.

Be­cause the de­tails are not pub­licly known, it is not clear to what ex­tent the Pakistani mil­it­ary and in­tel­li­gence ap­par­at­us gained ap­prov­al au­thor­ity for all drone strikes. In his new book, “Mag­ni­fi­cent De­lu­sions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic His­tory of Mis­un­der­stand­ing,” former Pakistani am­bas­sad­or to Wash­ing­ton Hu­sain Haqqani writes that the Pakistani ISI ac­tu­ally res­isted U.S. ef­forts to keep its own gov­ern­ment in Is­lamabad in­formed. “The CIA and the ISI [Pakistani in­tel­li­gence] com­mu­nic­ated reg­u­larly on the strikes,” Haqqani says. “The ISI did not like Pakistani ci­vil­ian of­fi­cials find­ing out any­thing about their deal­ings with the United States about armed Pred­at­or drones, but the U.S. gov­ern­ment wanted the ci­vil­ian lead­er­ship to re­main in the pic­ture.” The ISI, Haqqani ad­ded, was in the habit of “protest­ing against the drones pub­licly while privately ne­go­ti­at­ing over whom the drones would tar­get.”

But the two gov­ern­ments in­creas­ingly di­verged over the nature of the en­emy, with the ISI want­ing to pro­tect some of its ji­hadist al­lies in the struggle for in­flu­ence with In­dia and in­side Afgh­anistan, and to tar­get only cer­tain al Qaida-linked groups. Trust between the two sides was badly dam­aged after the U.S. uni­lat­er­ally tar­geted Osama bin Laden in a strike by Navy SEALs in Ab­bot­tabad in May 2011, com­pletely sur­pris­ing Pakistani mil­it­ary and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials.

Of­fi­cials say that a ma­jor reas­on why the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion res­isted ef­forts by Con­gress to ob­tain the full range of its clas­si­fied leg­al memos jus­ti­fy­ing so-called tar­geted killing was to pro­tect the secret pro­to­cols with Pakistan and oth­er coun­tries, such as Ye­men.

Last Feb­ru­ary, a leg­al ex­pert out­side the gov­ern­ment who is in­tim­ately fa­mil­i­ar with the con­tents of the memos draf­ted by the Justice De­part­ment’s Of­fice of Leg­al Coun­sel told Na­tion­al Journ­al that the gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment ac­cords on the con­duct of drone strikes were a key ele­ment not con­tained in a Justice De­part­ment “white pa­per” re­vealed by NBC News. He said it was largely in or­der to pro­tect this in­form­a­tion that the tar­geted-killing memos draf­ted by Justice’s Of­fice of Leg­al Coun­sel were even with­held from con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees. “That is what is miss­ing from the white pa­per but forms a core part of the memos,” the ex­pert said.

A Hu­man Rights Watch re­port this week also cri­ti­cized the U.S. drone pro­gram in Ye­men, say­ing the tar­geted air­strikes against al­leged ter­ror­ists have vi­ol­ated in­ter­na­tion­al law by killing in­no­cent ci­vil­ians. But a year ago, the new lead­er of Ye­men ““ an­oth­er coun­try with which Wash­ing­ton has signed a secret pro­tocol on drones ““ pub­licly en­dorsed Amer­ica’s use of drones with­in his bor­ders. “They pin­point the tar­get and have zero mar­gin of er­ror, if you know what tar­get you’re aim­ing at,” the new Ye­meni pres­id­ent, Abdu Rabbu Man­sour Hadi, said at the Woo­drow Wilson Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­sist­ently main­tained that ci­vil­ian cas­u­al­ties are min­im­al, and State De­part­ment spokes­wo­man Mar­ie Harf sug­ges­ted on Tues­day that the re­ports by Hu­man Rights Watch and Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al were in­ac­cur­ate on that score. “There’s a wide gap between U.S. as­sess­ments of such cas­u­al­ties and non­gov­ern­ment­al re­ports,” she said.

Even so the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, jol­ted by new waves of anti-Amer­ic­an­ism in Pakistan and the Ar­ab world in re­ac­tion to the drone strikes, has been en­gaged in an in­tense in­tern­al de­bate over how to nar­row the pro­gram. The ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves it has re­moved most of “core al-Qaida” from its cent­ral home in Pakistan, and at the same time it’s no longer quite as clear that “as­so­ci­ated” groups or in­di­vidu­als will seek to tar­get the U.S. home­land or U.S. in­terests the way bin Laden did.

Among those ex­pec­ted to in­flu­ence this ef­fort anew is Jeh John­son, Obama’s nom­in­ee to suc­ceed Janet Na­pol­it­ano as Home­land Se­cur­ity sec­ret­ary. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials point to a speech that John­son, then the Pentagon’s gen­er­al coun­sel, gave in Novem­ber 2012 set­ting leg­al stand­ards for the drone war and lay­ing out cri­ter­ia for cur­tail­ing and even end­ing it. John­son said “there will come a tip­ping point “¦ at which so many of the lead­ers and op­er­at­ives of al-Qaida and its af­fil­i­ates have been killed or cap­tured, and the group is no longer able to at­tempt or launch a stra­tegic at­tack against the United States, such that al-Qaida as we know it, the or­gan­iz­a­tion that our Con­gress au­thor­ized the mil­it­ary to pur­sue in 2001, has been ef­fect­ively des­troyed.” The war would then be ex­pec­ted to end ““ and with it, much of the drone pro­gram, John­son sug­ges­ted.

Mean­while, however, the Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al re­port on Pakistan con­cluded that the “strikes have res­ul­ted in un­law­ful killings that may con­sti­tute ex­traju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tions or war crimes.”

Sharif, who is seek­ing to re­pair re­la­tions with Wash­ing­ton, was some­what more cir­cum­spect in a speech in Wash­ing­ton on Tues­day, not­ing that Pakistan’s polit­ic­al parties have “de­clared that the use of drones is not only a con­tin­ued vi­ol­a­tion of our ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity, but also det­ri­ment­al to our re­solve and ef­forts at elim­in­at­ing ter­ror­ism from our coun­try.”

He did not men­tion the secret pro­tocol au­thor­iz­ing the use of drones with­in his coun­try’s bor­ders.

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