Continued from page 1

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials have continually pressed the Obama administration for operational control of the Predator drones.

The Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Islamabad believes the drone technology should be in the hands of Pakistan’s security forces.

This suggestion has been rejected by the U.S., which has instead said it will consider providing Pakistan with the Shadow, an unarmed aerial vehicle. Pakistani officials have been cool to the offer, saying they would much rather have the Predator.

Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, said the U.S. could consider giving Pakistan “targeting control” over the Predator even if it is reluctant to give it full control over their operations.

“But there has been no give on the U.S. side on that score. So it will continue to add to the noise in the relationship,” Mr. Nawaz said.

Pakistan’s neighbor India, with which it has fought three wars, is opposed to the transfer of such technology. Indian officials are concerned Pakistan will use the drones to spy on or target defense facilities in India.

The drone program has eliminated many top terrorist leaders in the lawless tribal belt along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, including Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.

“A lot of terrorists are spending time staring up at the sky instead of having the leisure to do bad things to innocent people in Pakistan and the West,” a U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity. “Lawful, precise, and effective strikes against terrorists in remote parts of Pakistan have put a lot of pressure on these murderers.”

C. Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, said it is essential to move the discourse on the drones away from “the tired old line of ‘our sovereignty is being trampled’ to one of ‘we are behind the trigger, this is a joint menace and we are participating in the ownership of the program.’”

“Not only does it require the Pakistanis to stop being disingenuous, it requires the U.S. government to stop being unsophisticated when it comes to Pakistan,” she said.

Pakistani officials and analysts say civilian casualties in drone strikes are fueling anti-U.S. sentiment in a country in which a recent Pew Research Center survey found U.S. approval lowest among all countries polled.

“The drone strikes create a negative perception of the United States every time there are civilian deaths,” said the Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

He conceded, however, that civilian deaths in such operations have gone down over the past couple of years.

“But when there are even a small number of civilian casualties, since the technology is being used by the United States it raises more passions among the people of Pakistan,” the official added.

Mr. Nawaz said the cumulative effect of the drone strikes is that they strengthen the popular opinion in Pakistan against the U.S. and may put pressure on the Pakistani government to resist U.S. actions at a critical time in the relationship, when both countries are trying to move their strategic dialogue forward.

Story Continues →