ISLAMABAD: US President Barack Obama and his top aides are considering expanding covert operations against Taleban leaders in Pakistan to southwestern Balochistan province, The New York Times reported yesterday. Two reports sent to the White House call for broadening the target area to include the region in and around Quetta, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed senior administration officials.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi declined to comment on the report, but reiterated that the US had agreed to review the overall policy of drone strikes.“We have made them agree to think over it,” he said. “In the next interaction, there is a chance to put this issue up for further discussion.”
Asked about reports that Pakistan has allowed the US to use bases on its soil to land and launch the unmanned drones behind the missile strikes, Qureshi said the country “has not given uses of its bases for kinetic strikes.” Abdul Basit, a spokesman at the Foreign Ministry, also downplayed the report. “We have seen The New York Times report. It appears to be speculative and we cannot comment on speculations.”
Quetta, located 70 km from the border with Afghanistan and with a population of about one million, is the capital of Balochistan. Up to now missile strikes, launched by US drones against insurgents who carry out attacks in Afghanistan, have been limited to the North-West Frontier Province, the report pointed out.
“It is fair to say that there is wide agreement to sustain and continue these covert programs,” an unnamed senior US administration official told the newspaper. “One of the foundations on which the recommendations to the president will be based is that we’ve got to sustain the disruption of the safe havens.”
Top Obama advisers, however, are split on the issue of Balochistan. Some fear that such strikes could increase tensions with Pakistan, which said in late February it wanted to discuss ending drone attacks inside its territory.
Mullah Omar, who led the Taleban government ousted by the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, has operated out of the region for years, along with many of his deputies, the newspaper said.
Unlike the semi-autonomous tribal belt, Balochistan — which borders Iran and Afghanistan — is under the authority of the central government. The province has rich energy resources but is rife with regional insurgency and sectarian violence. Hundreds of people have died in insurgent unrest in the province since 2004, when rebels began demanding autonomy and a greater share of profits from Balochistan’s natural resources.
Courtesy: Arab News