Islamabad: Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has acknowledged his regime secretly cleared US drone strikes, becoming the first serving or retired Pakistani official to publicly admit that the country had a deal on attacks by the CIA-operated spy planes. Musharraf said there was no blanket agreement with the US on the controversial drone campaign and that his regime had cleared missile strikes "only on very few occasions where the target was absolutely isolated and (the drone strike) had no chance of collateral damage".
The drone strikes were discussed "at the military (and) intelligence level" and cleared only if "there was no time for our own (special operations task force) and military to act", he said. "That was...maybe two or three times only," he told CNN in an interview. Sometimes, he said, "you couldn't delay action". He added, "These ups and downs kept going...It was a very fluid situation, a vicious enemy...mountains, inaccessible areas".
Musharraf said that one of those killed by US drones was Nek Mohammed, a tribal warlord accused of harbouring al-Qaeda militants in the tribal belt. At the time, in June 2004, Pakistan intelligence said Mohammed died after Pakistani forces launched a missile at a house where he was staying. Pakistani leaders have for long denied the country's involvement in clearing drone strikes.
The drone strikes were discussed "at the military (and) intelligence level", Pervez Musharraf said.
The Foreign Office described the strikes as counter-productive for the war against terrorism and a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. Hundreds of people have been killed in drone strikes since 2004, including top Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives.
However, some political parties and rights groups say dozens of civilians have died in the attacks. Musharraf's admission suggests he and others did play some role even if they did not oversee the programme or approve every attack, CNN reported. His admission that Pakistani leaders agreed to even a limited number of strikes runs counter to Islamabad's frequent denunciation of the drone campaign.
In a 2008 diplomatic cable made public by Wikileaks, then US Ambassador Anne Patterson mentioned a discussion about drones during a meeting with then Interior Minister Rehman Malik and then premier Yousuf Raza Gilani. "Malik suggested we hold off alleged Predator attacks until after the Bajaur operation," Patterson wrote. "The PM brushed aside Rehman's remarks and said, 'I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it'."