Pakistan remains opposed to drones after Obama speech

The Pakistan government Friday repeated its view that US drone strikes in its territory were illegal, after President Barack Obama laid out new guidelines for their use.

The US president mounted a firm defence of his covert drone war as legal and just in a major speech on counterterrorism policy on Thursday but warned that undisciplined use of the tactic would invite abuses of power.

Islamabad said it welcomed some aspects of Obama's address, particularly his acknowledgement that "force alone cannot make us safe", but it remained firm on its long-held public stance on unmanned missile attacks in its tribal northwest.

"The Government of Pakistan has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Obama said he had approved new guidelines stating that drone strikes can only be used to prevent imminent attacks and when the capture of a suspect is not feasible and if there is a "near certainty" that civilians will not be killed.

According to Britain's Bureau of Investigative Journalism, CIA drone attacks targeting suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan have killed up to 3,587 people since 2004, up to 884 of them civilians.

Obama said he would be "haunted" for the rest of his life by the deaths of civilians in strikes he had ordered but said his policies had been successful in neutralising the threat of action from core Al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Islamabad has repeatedly denounced drone strikes, criticising them as a violation of sovereignty that inflame anti-Americanism, though leaked US diplomatic cables have shown leaders agreed to them in private.

Washington and Islamabad have endured rocky times in the past two years, with relations hit by a series of crises including the discovery of Osama bin Laden hiding close to the Pakistani military academy.

Public anger in Pakistan at drones has not helped but ties appear to be on the mend and the foreign ministry statement welcomed Obama's pledge to continue this process.

Pakistan is currently being run by a caretaker government while the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) of incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif prepares to take power following the May 11 general election.

Shortly after the poll Sharif called the strikes a "challenge" to sovereignty and said Washington must take Pakistani concerns about them seriously.