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Interview: UN Envoy Says Drone Strikes Violate Pakistan's Sovereignty

Masood Khan
Masood Khan
Masood Khan, Pakistan's permanent representative to the United Nations, says that while suspected U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory are effective, they are a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and fuel anger against Washington and Islamabad. Interview by RFE/RL correspondent Ahmad Shah Azami.

How would you characterize Pakistan's current relations with the United States -- friendly and cooperative or tense and acrimonious?

Masood Khan: I would not categorize Pakistan-U.S. relations in such narrow terms. I think that we are engaging each other on a host of issues but at the same time we have some difficulties and we are trying to resolve them.

RFE/RL: You have opposed suspected U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan at the UN Security Council by calling them a violation of your country's sovereignty. What alternatives do you see to such strikes in fighting international terrorism?

I don't think that a sweeping generalization can be made that Pakistan has not succeeded in neutralizing the threat of terrorism in many parts of the country. We have also helped the United States and Afghanistan and the entire international community in fighting terrorists and this is a success in that regard. It is sad that the threat of terrorism has not been eliminated. That threat is still there -- for us, for Afghanistan, for the United States, for the international community -- and therefore we need to continue to collaborate with one another. We need to combine our forces to eliminate this threat. Yes, the United States has used different methodology to neutralize terrorism. We also have used military means but we also believe that we should simultaneously [engage in] dialogues and development.

RFE/RL: Washington has said that the targeting of terrorists in suspected drone strikes is in Islamabad's interest. What is your assessment of such claims?

I think that is correct. We agree but we do not condone or support the use of drone strikes and there are a number of reasons. First, they violate our sovereignty and territorial integrity. The government of Pakistan has not given its formal consent to the use of armed drones. Second, whenever there are drone strikes, civilian casualties take place and all the population which is hit by the drones, they live in a state of constant fear. And we have seen and we can substantiate that these drones are counterproductive. They foment anger and sentiments against the United States and the government of Pakistan and they do violate international law.

RFE/RL: There were reports that Pakistan's previous governments allowed the drone strikes under a secret deal with the United States. Is that still the case?

We have said in the United Nations that the government of Pakistan has given no such consent or approval.

RFE/RL: In your view, how much does the presence of foreign militants on Pakistani soil damage its image internationally?

They have damaged our image and they have done a big harm to Pakistan's prestige. That is why we want to eliminate militancy from Pakistan and all these militants and terrorists are not part of the national mainstream. They are fringe elements, in fact, and they are threat to our civilian population. They target unarmed civilians and kill them.

RFE/RL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said many times that the United States and Pakistan hold the key to peace and stability in Afghanistan. How would you respond to such claims?

The United States is a very important partner of Afghanistan and it has been fighting a war against militants and terrorists for the past decade. Afghanistan and the United States are close allies. We have also been close partners of the United States and we are a close friend and neighbor of Afghanistan. So yes, we have interlocking relationships here, but let's not say that Pakistan or the United States hold the key. The people of Afghanistan, the government, and all the political forces hold the key. In fact, they should come together, forge unity in their ranks and they should define their own destiny. They should be no outside interference as they shape and define their own future.

RFE/RL: Do you reject Afghan claims that militants often engage in cross-border infiltration from Pakistan into their country?

I would reject it categorically, but at the same time I would say that this border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is porous. There is no deliberate infiltration from our side. The border is porous. It is a long border. It can't be monitored 24/7. It is not possible either physically or electronically. And that is why, at one point I recall, we had proposed the construction of a fence, but that was opposed by the Afghan government. I think what we need to do is to take joint missions. We have the same dilemma the government of Afghanistan has because lots of militants and terrorists cross over from the Afghan territory and come to Pakistan but we can't put the blame on the Afghan government.

RFE/RL: Afghanistan and the United States are expected to conclude a Bilateral Security Agreement that could enable thousands of American troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014. What is your reaction to their possible future presence?

As long as the presence contributes to peace and stability -- the broad objective of Afghanistan, the United States, and Pakistan -- I think this is good step. There should be no security vacuum. We understand that the troops which would stay behind will play a supportive role.

RFE/RL: How do you see Pakistani-Afghan relations beyond 2014?

We have made progress in our bilateral relations. Recently Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in Kabul and he had very productive talks with President [Hamid] Karzai. President Karzai had earlier visited Pakistan. In fact the trade of our two countries is increasing rapidly. We are also contributing to Afghanistan's reconstruction. As Afghanistan negotiates three simultaneous transitions; the political transition, security transition and economic transition, we wish them well. We want to contribute to these transitions, particularly to economic reconstruction. I think Pakistan and Afghanistan have a good future together.

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