U.S. Drone Strikes Resume in Pakistan; Action May Complicate Vital Negotiations

The drone strikes, which have long infuriated the Pakistani public, killed four al-Qaeda-linked fighters in a girls’ school they had taken over in the North Waziristan tribal area, security officials there said.
Warning of diplomatic consequences, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attacks, the first since Parliament’s unanimous vote this month approving new guidelines for the country’s relationship with the United States. Some politicians said the drone strikes might set back already difficult negotiations over the reopening of vital NATO supply routes to Afghanistan that Pakistan blocked five months ago.
Last week, after two days of high-level talks in Islamabad, Pakistan told U.S. negotiators that it would not allow NATO convoys to cross its territory unless the United States unconditionally apologized for November airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border. Although the Obama administration has expressed regret for the killings, which it said were accidental, the Pentagon says both sides share blame.
Washington has made it clear that an apology will not be forthcoming, but officials from both governments say they are committed to ongoing talks. A Pentagon-led team of 10 negotiators, including State Department and White House officials, remains in Islamabad to focus on getting the NATO supply lines open.
“We haven’t found a solution yet, but everybody wants to find one,” said one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the two nations have maintained a bargain: Pakistan gets billions in aid and the United States gets supply routes and a counterterrorism ally. Part of the negotiations for the reopening of the border crossings also focus on the United States releasing $1.1 billion in overdue coalition support funds — money Pakistan is owed to cover its outlays for the battle against militants. Pakistan says the unpaid funds, with no U.S. payments made since mid-2010, total three times that amount.
The supply convoy routes from Pakistani seaports into land-locked Afghanistan not only support the war against the Taliban but also are crucial for the exit of U.S. troops and equipment in the combat-force withdrawal that is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014.
U.S. commanders have relied on stockpiles and goods brought in across Central Asia to the north while the Pakistani crossings have been closed. But the military has concluded that the tens of thousands of heavy vehicles and other materiel amassed over a decade of warfare in Afghanistan cannot be carried over those routes without enormous expense and effort, or within existing agreements with countries to the north. Washington Post