ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan has rejected a request from the United States to expand its drone missile campaign against al-Qaida and Taliban militants, a decision that limits Washington’s use of one of its most effective tools against insurgents hiding out in the country’s northwest.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said the government would not allow the U.S. to carry out drone strikes outside the tribal belt along the Afghan border and repeated Islamabad’s request that Washington abandon its use of drones in Pakistan on the grounds that the program violates the nation’s sovereignty.
Basit did not say which additional areas the U.S. wanted to target. However, the Washington Post reported Saturday that the request focused on areas outside the southern city of Quetta, in Baluchistan province, where Afghan Taliban leaders have hideouts.
“We are allies of the United States in the war against terror,” Basit said. “However, Pakistan will not compromise on sovereignty.”
Islamabad’s refusal comes as little surprise, given the animosity among Pakistanis that the drone campaign has stirred for years, but even as the government publicly condemns the drone program, it tacitly allows the missile strikes to take place. Pakistan even provides intelligence to facilitate the targeting of the strikes.
The drone missions are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, where they are viewed as an illustration of President Asif Ali Zardari’s willingness to acquiesce to most of Washington’s demands.
Any expansion of the drone campaign into Baluchistan would also be a dramatic departure in policy for Islamabad because it is not part of the semiautonomous tribal region where the strikes are permitted.