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Pakistan Lends Tacit Agreement to Drone Strikes

For years, the Pakistani government and opposition parties blamed alleged U.S. drone strikes for fomenting anger, attracting new recruits into insurgent ranks, and sabotaging Islamabad's efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban.

But Pakistan's silence over a string of U.S. drone strikes in recent weeks suggests that Islamabad has now embraced the attacks and sees them as a valuable tactic against Islamist insurgents.

Pakistani officials and politicians have largely ignored at least nine drone strikes since September 24 that have reportedly killed nearly 40 militants from Pakistani Taliban factions and allied Al-Qaeda and Central Asian militants.

Most of the strikes were concentrated in the northwestern North Waziristan tribal district, where the Pakistani military claims to have killed more than 1,000 militants in an offensive that began in mid-June. The operation has displaced more than one million civilians.

A defense analyst, retired Lieutenant General Talat Masood, said that Islamabad seems to be permitting the drone strikes.

"I see that Pakistan is largely consenting in these attacks but cannot own them diplomatically or on the government level," he told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal.

Masood said that the drone strikes support the ongoing Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan, and are unlikely to be happening without the consent of Pakistan's military.

"Overall, these drone attack are helpful in ending militant organizations -- the aim of the ongoing [Pakistani] military offensive," he said. "There seems to be some degree of coordination between the Pakistani military and the U.S. because the end results of these attacks is serving both."

Most of the drone attacks since September 24 have been concentrated in Shawal and Datta Khel, two remote regions in North Waziristan that have long served as Taliban strongholds and where the Pakistani military's ground operations have proved difficult.

Lawmaker Tahir Iqbal told Radio Mashaal that the Pakistani government has always protested the U.S. drone strikes because they violate Pakistani sovereignty, but offered his view on the American position.

"But the Americans look at this from a different perspective. They are worried that the militants hiding [in our border region] might foment attacks elsewhere around the globe," he said. "Obviously their information is better than ours because they monitor all extremist groups and engage their leaders whenever they find them."

Iqbal's governing Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz party, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, regularly protested the drone strikes. The attacks were the subject of one of the party’s major campaign slogans during last year's parliamentary elections.

Pakistanis, however, are more surprised about the silence of Sharif's main political rival Imran Khan over the drone attacks.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf party campaigned against the drone operations for years, both inside the country and internationally. It declared the attacks a major hurdle to making peace with the Taliban and a root cause of terrorism in Pakistan.

Now campaigning for Sharif to resign, Khan seems to be in no mood to focus his agitation on drone strikes and has weaved the issue into his anti-Sharif narrative. "The government has completely failed to safeguard Pakistan's sovereignty," he recently told supporters.

In addition, Pakistan's hardline Islamists are not keen on mounting anti-drone protests after their campaign to negotiate with the Taliban failed this year.

Siraj-ul Haq, leader of pan-Islamist Jammt-e Islami political party, says that they still condemn the strikes. "We have so many problems that it is difficult to protest each one," he told Radio Mashaal.

According to the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, an estimated 3,500 people, most of whom were considered militants, have been killed in some 386 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004.