LONDON: One of Islamabad's most senior diplomats has warned that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas are weakening democracy and risk pushing people towards extremist groups.
Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the high commissioner to London and one of Pakistan's top ambassadors, also accuses the US of "talking in miles" when it comes to democracy but "moving in inches".
In an interview with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Hasan, four years into his second stint in the post, argues that US drone strikes risk significantly weakening Pakistan's democratic institutions. "What has been the whole outcome of these drone attacks is that you have directly or indirectly contributed to destabilising or undermining the democratic government. Because people really make fun of the democratic government – when you pass a resolution against drone attacks in the parliament and nothing happens. The Americans don't listen to you, and they continue to violate your territory," he said.
But he accepts that Pakistan has little power to stop the strikes other than through public opinion: "We cannot take on the only superpower, which is all-powerful in the world at the moment. You can't take them on. We are a small country, we are ill-equipped."
The reason, says Hasan, is that anti-US sentiment is reaching dangerously high levels. "Even those who were supporting us in the border areas have now become our enemies. They say that we are partners in these crimes against the people. By and large you will hardly find anybody who will say a word in support of the United States, because of these drone attacks."
Hasan insists his country is committed to the war against al-Qaida and extremism, noting the thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers who have died in terrorist attacks since 9/11. "We're not opposed to eliminating these al-Qaida chaps. We were not opposed to eliminating Osama bin Laden, because he was declared an international terrorist. If I were there I would have killed him myself."
The issue, he insists, is the continued violation of Pakistan's national sovereignty by US drones. "This is a violation of the UN charter, it is a clear violation of our territorial sovereignty and national integrity. These drone violations have been taking place since 2004. And the attacks have killed 2,500 to 3,000 people," he said.
Hasan is also scathing about what he sees as the US's weak commitment towards democracy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, implying there are those in the US government who would still prefer to be dealing with a dictator.
"They talk in miles in support of democracy, but they move in inches. They say, 'We are fully for democracy, we want democracy, we support the Arab spring, we are opposed to military interference in Egypt'.
"All of these things are very good. But when it comes to real politics they are different. [The US secretary of state] Hillary Clinton has really supported democracy. But she is one person. There are so many pillars of power in the United States, and they act differently."
He added: 'Ten years down the road you have not even allowed democratic parties to be active, you are not allowing political parties to exist in Afghanistan. How can you have democracy if you don't have political parties?
He argues that Pakistan can still play a key role in negotiating peace with the Taliban — but that the US has shown little interest in offers of aid: 'When we have been telling them that you must have a dialogue with the Taliban, good or bad, they never listen to us. Now they have started back-door diplomacy and all these backtracks through the Saudis and others. But again they're forgetting one thing.
Pakistan has been one of the major players in the region, ever since the Soviets occupied Afghanistan. We have had the best relationship with those Afghans, the Taliban or whatever in the past. Couldn't we be a better option for them to deal with those people? No — they never bothered.'
With the US and Nato intending to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, Hasan insists that Pakistan will continue the fight against al-Qaida – but that it cannot accept US drone strikes.
"Bush's state department said a fortnight before 9/11 that they were opposed to targeted killing [in Israel] because they don't end the violence. And drone strikes won't end the violence, they won't end extremism, they won't end the Taliban and won't end al-Qaida.
"What you have to do is win the hearts and minds of the people, to solve the local problem there in Afghanistan, to stop the drone attacks in Pakistan so the people can see that yes, they have been stopped, now let's build a relationship, yes let's try to resolve this terrible issue. Let's fight terrorism.
"And we are a very resilient people, we can fight it."