Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said over the weekend that the United States should be careful not to "test his government's patience" with persistent drone strikes on the country's territory, according to Pakistani media outlets.
The minister was touring a hospital in an unrelated trip when a local journalist asked about the drones strikes, which are operated by the C.I.A. in one of the least-covert covert operations in the agency's history. Mukhtar said that Pakistan was a responsible nuclear power and couldn't accept the killing of its people in drones strikes.
U.S. drones have killed upwards of 3,000 people in Pakistan's tribal areas, by some estimates, since they began in 2004. The strikes have become far more frequent in recent years, however, under the leadership of U.S. President Barack Obama and Leon Panetta, the former C.I.A. chief and current secretary of defense.
Complete coverage: The Drone Wars
Mukhtar added that the government would unveil a new policy on the drone strikes soon. Although Pakistan has long made a practice out of condemning the unmanned aerial missile strikes in front of the Pakistani public, which has grown increasingly angry by the killing of civilians, privately the government has always allowed them to continue.
So has the government finally had enough? Or is this just more politicking?
If the Pakistani government has grown weary of the drones, it hasn't led to a slowdown in the number of attacks. In the latest strike, on Friday, three men were killed while driving in a car in Miram Shah, North Waziristan. Officials said that the three men were Egyptians. But there has been no confirmation.
Recently, the defense minister told GlobalPost that Pakistan had no choice but to allow the drone strikes to continue:
Outside of communicating their displeasure with the drones, there are no other means to put an end to them, said Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar. Shooting them down would mean an all-out war with the United States, which Pakistan would like to avoid, he said. He also dismissed the suggestion that Pakistan could use its leverage as a transit for U.S. convoys carrying food and other items for American troops in Afghanistan to force the United States to halt its drone program.
“Then there is a very large penalty in terms of humanitarian lives. People do not get food to eat. It is as simple as that,” he said, referring to the American troops.
If Pakistan suddenly decided to force the United States to stop conducting drone strikes on its territory, it could have massive implications. It would derail the primary U.S. counterterrorism strategy and it would complicate relations with Pakistan to a point the ever-quarreling twosome might not be able to bear. The most likely scenario, however, is that Pakistan will continue to bluster in public, while it capitulates in private.