With extraordinary timing the latest US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region of North Waziristan, which is reported to have killed a senior militant commander, comes just days before Nawaz Sharif is formally sworn in as the country’s new Prime Minister with a mandate to open peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
The strike, which followed a cautious Pakistani welcome to President Obama’s undertaking last week to scale back the drone strike programme, is sure to be seen as a pre-emptive blow to Sharif’s hopes of a political settlement with the Pakistani Taliban.
The latest strike is also sure to compound the challenge for Sharif to normalise Pakistan’s relations with the United States. In recent years drone strikes have become the main source of tension in US-Pakistan relations and surfaced as a major issue during the recent elections and Sharif has described the attacks as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. He has vowed to engage the US in “serious” negotiations to end the strikes. While Sharif is mindful of his rivals using the latest strike to put him on the defensive, he is unlikely to endorse any shift that could spell a break in relations with the US. His commitment to restore Pakistan’s shattered economy – unimaginable without international assistance – means that like his predecessors, he may have to bite the bullet and live with drone strikes.
Farzana Shaikh is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and the author of ‘Making Sense of Pakistan’