- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to ask President Obama to end U.S. drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan and mediate a long-standing dispute with India when the two leaders meet at the White House on Wednesday.

But Mr. Obama is unlikely to agree to either demand, according to U.S. officials and analysts.

In a speech seen as a prelude to his meeting with Mr. Obama, Mr. Sharif on Tuesday urged the Obama administration to stop drone strikes inside Pakistan, while making the case that the South Asian nation is “neither a source of nor the epicenter of terrorism.”


SEE ALSO: White House defends drone strikes; Pakistani P.M. to visit Obama this week


The unmanned aerial strikes have become a “major irritant” in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, Mr. Sharif said at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.

“I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks,” he said.

The Obama administration is likely to continue the drone strikes because they hit terrorist targets in Pakistan that pose threats to U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan, said Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


SEE ALSO: Human rights groups accuse U.S. of fudging stats of civilian deaths by drone strikes


“This is a terribly important and emotional issue for millions of Pakistanis. By the same token, I think it is unrealistic to think that Obama is going to have any real give on this subject so long as the insurgents continue to find a sanctuary in Pakistan and then slip across the border to kill Americans and NATO forces,” Mr. Hathaway said.

Cameron Munter, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, said any discussion between Mr. Sharif and U.S. officials on drones will be framed in the larger context of U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism cooperation.

“Talking about drones and the difficulties that drones have posed as an issue is only the prelude to talking about counterterrorism and the way in which both countries decide they are going to work together, or not, to try to deal with it,” Mr. Munter said in a Council on Foreign Relations press briefing.

U.S. officials say the unmanned Predator drone strikes have significantly degraded al Qaeda’s capacity. Pakistani officials say the strikes violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.

In his speech Tuesday, Mr. Sharif said he wants to improve ties with Pakistan’s neighbors, Afghanistan and India.

He urged U.S. mediation on the disputed region of Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

“With its growing influence in India, the U.S. now has the capacity to do more to help the two sides resolve their core disputes, including Kashmir,” Mr. Sharif said.

India opposes third-party mediation on Kashmir, which it considers a bilateral issue with Pakistan, and the Obama administration is reluctant to get involved.

“We still believe that the pace, scope, and character of India and Pakistan’s dialogue on Kashmir is for those two countries to determine,” said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokeswoman at the National Security Council.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sharif’s campaign against drone strikes was bolstered by a blistering Amnesty International report Tuesday that concluded that the U.S. had carried out unlawful killings, some of which could amount to war crimes, using drones in Pakistan.

The report examines all 45 known drone strikes in Pakistan’s northwestern North Waziristan province from January 2012 to August.

Amnesty International documented the October 2012 death of a 68-year-old woman, Mamana Bibi, in an apparent Hellfire missile strike as she picked vegetables in her family’s farm surrounded by her grandchildren.

Mamana Bibi’s son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, and two of her grandchildren who were injured in the drone strike are scheduled to testify at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

“Secrecy surrounding the drones program gives the U.S. administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan researcher.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration “strongly” disagrees with the claims by the human rights group.

“We take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law and that they are consistent with U.S. values and U.S. policy,” Mr. Carney said.

The Amnesty International report also examines a more deadly incident in July 2012 in which 18 laborers were killed in multiple strikes as they sat down to dinner in a village close to the border with Afghanistan.

“There are genuine threats to the USA and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of laborers, or an elderly woman surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States,” said Mr. Qadri.