During his current visit to Pakistan, Secretary of State John Kerry was non-specific about how long the U.S. will continue to use unmanned drones to strike Pakistani tribal regions, but suggested that the drone program could end “soon.” In the typically vague parlance that has colored official U.S. lines on drone warfare, Kerry told Pakistani television: “I believe that we’re on a good track. I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it … I think the president has a very real timeline, and we hope it’s going to be very, very soon.”
According to the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, basing figures on local reports and news coverage, up to 928 civilians may have been killed in the 300-plus U.S. drone strikes carried out in Pakistan since 2004. The highest court in Pakistan ruled earlier this year that the strikes were an abrogation of the country’s sovereignty and the covert drone program has been a thorn in the side of U.S.-Pakistan diplomatic relations for some years.
As the AP reported Thursday:
The U.S. and Pakistan launched high-level talks on a wide swath of security and development programs in 2010. But the talks stalled in November 2011 after U.S. airstrikes on a Pakistani post on the Afghan border accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Even before that, the bilateral relationship was severely damaged by a variety of incidents, including a CIA contractor shooting to death two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore and the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistani town of Abbottabad.
The resumption of the strategic dialogue indicates that the relationship between the two countries has improved since that low point. But there is still significant tension and mistrust between the two countries, especially regarding U.S. drone strikes and Pakistan’s alleged ties with Taliban militants using its territory to launch cross-border attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.