- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
In his inaugural remarks as prime minister on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif called for an end to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. "The chapter of daily drone attacks should stop," he told the Pakistani parliament. "We respect sovereignty of other countries but others should also respect our sovereignty."
Sound familiar? It’s hardly the first time Pakistan has called for an end to U.S. drone strikes:
- April 2012: Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar reiterates demands for the United States to end drone strikes in Pakistani territory. "On drones, the language is clear," Khar says, "a clear cessation of drone strikes…. I maintain the position that we’d told them categorically before. But they did not listen."
- March 2012: In a review of U.S.-Pakistani relations following a U.S. airstrike that mistakenly killed Pakistani soldiers, the Pakistani parliament declares, "No overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be tolerated."
- May 2011: In the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, director of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), asks CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell to end CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, adding, "We will be forced to respond if you do not come up with a strategy that stops the drone strikes."
- April 2011: Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the Pakistani Army, privately requests that the United States immediately halt drone strikes after the January 2011 arrest of CIA security officer Raymond Davis. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani tells the Pakistani parliament that the government is working through partner countries to pressure Washington to end the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan.
- January 2010: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani calls on a delegation of U.S. senators to end U.S. drone strikes.
- June 2009: In a meeting with National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones, Pakistani officials ask Washington to halt the drone campaign.
- February 2009: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi calls on the United States to transfer control of the drone program to Pakistani authorities, saying, "If [drone strikes] are necessary, if they are a necessity, then I think we are suggesting that technology should be transferred to Pakistan and that will resolve quite a few issues with the people of Pakistan."
- November 2008: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari asks Gen. David Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, to halt drone strikes, explaining, "Continuing drone attacks on [Pakistani] territory, which result in loss of precious lives and property, are counterproductive and difficult to explain by a democratically elected government…. It is creating a credibility gap."
It’s worth noting that these quick snippets from news stories only scratch the surface when it comes to the convoluted politics of U.S.-Pakistani security relations. For example, despite the public outrage, some Pakistani officials were still quietly green-lighting U.S. drone operations in February 2009, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly noted that some of the strikes were being launched from bases in Pakistan.
Pakistani political opposition to U.S. drone strikes grew as the number of strikes increased — though the first strike took place way back in 2004, there were no more than a few strikes each year until 2008, when there were 37. That number grew to 122 in 2010 but has been declining since. Still, the decreasing number of strikes hasn’t extinguished Pakistani opposition, and calls for an end to U.S. drone strikes were a rallying cry for populist candidates in Pakistan’s recent election.
It’s unclear if the country’s new prime minister will make much headway on this front, or if he’ll even try. The New York Times suggested that Sharif’s comments today may be more political doublespeak, noting that "Mr. Sharif’s rhetoric may have been driven by political considerations, with some suggesting that he may be more pragmatic toward the United States once I office." But Sharif has also positioned himself as a counterweight to the Pakistani military establishment — which forced him from office when he was prime minister in the 1990s — and might challenge the cadre of generals who have been more permissive of U.S. strikes than elected officials. Today’s announcement, though? It’s nothing new.