WASHINGTON, April 2 : Voicing concern that frequent employment of drones is making it a strategy rather than a tactic, former U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker has said he expects discussion between Islamabad and Washington on resolving the issue after May 11 election.
His remarks came amid growing criticism of the controversial drone program, which has largely remained covert as aerial vehicles continue to target suspected militant targets in federally administered tribal areas.
“The increase in drone strikes over the last four years has been exponential. I sometimes am concerned that it is, perhaps inadvertently, becoming a strategy rather than a tactic,” Crocker told reporters in a conference call organized by the Council on Foreign Relations about the importance of upcoming polls in Pakistan.
Crocker, who served as Washington’s envoy in Pakistan for about three years until March 2007, noted the drones “can be a very effective tactic, judiciously used” but “it may not be fun all the time.”
The former diplomat said he would welcome that post-election strategic discussion on the issue between the two countries.
Responding to a question about the post–May 11 election scenario and the US drone policy in view of widespread political opposition to the unilateral operations, Crocker said
“I would hope that — being a perennial optimist — that these elections will lead to exactly the kind of strategic negotiation and discussion —– You know, I would not expect whoever emerges as prime minister simply taking a position that this is over.
“There will be those discussions, and I think they’re going to be healthy ones that will lead to some understandings on how this whole program is implemented.”
On the U.S. position in the current political scenario, Crocker said while the United States has very high stakes in Pakistan, Washington should avoid giving an impression that it is backing any particular candidate in the May 11 election.
The upcoming election is as much about Pakistan’s institutional future as it is of new parliaments and a new government.
“Given our history in Pakistan, we have got to be incredibly careful not to do anything that could even create the impression that we are favoring any candidate over any other candidate,” he said.
In this context, he said Secretary of State John Kerry on his recent visit to the region deliberately did not visit Pakistan.
Emphasizing U.S. stakes in Pakistan, Crocker said it is a country of 180-plus million people and possesses nuclear weapons.
Crocker who was the US ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007 said Pakistan was facing a growing extremism challenge amid press reports of the ascendancy of the Taliban in Karachi.
“So a stable Pakistan is crucial to a stable region, and that takes us back to the importance of these elections.”
At the same time, he said the good news is that the government completed its term, made no effort to extend that extra-legally.
“There is a credible election commission in place and a caretaker government to oversee all of this, because it comes down to one word: institutions.”
Pakistan, he claimed, is in a state of institutional failure. “It’s not a failed state, but you could argue it is a failing state.”
“So these elections need to be, well-run and credible in their outcome. I think we as the United States and more broadly as the international community need to do whatever may be helpful to the success of these elections, and that means efforts on institutions, not, repeat, not on individuals.”
“From the point of view of U.S. interests, I don’t think it matters that much who emerges in first place and who forms the next government as long as the process of getting them there is broadly seen as legitimate.”
The other piece of good news, he said, there is no appetite in the Pakistani military to get itself involved in the electoral process, certainly not under current management.
“So as long as there is not widespread disorder, I would be reasonably confident that the military will keep its distance.”
Thirdly, he said, there have been massive political rallies throughout the country by the various contenders without much trouble. “Given the number of people who were out and the threats by the Taliban and others to disrupt the process, that so many rallies were held without incident is an encouraging beginning.”