Pakistan’s government has for years received direct communications from the CIA regarding strikes by U.S. drones and repeatedly given its consent to their use within its territory, according to leaked CIA documents and Pakistani memos published by The Washington Post on Thursday.
The files revealed close coordination between Pakistan and the CIA between 2007 and 2011, including detailed maps, before-and-after photos of U.S. drone targets and specific instructions to the Pakistani government concerning its use of the controversial program — which is extremely unpopular with the Pakistani public and has even been condemned by the country’s current government.
Pakistan’s approval of past U.S. drone strikes has been an open secret in Washington and Islamabad for years, but the new files provide the most explicit evidence to date on how closely the two countries worked together to carry them out.
While the U.S. has since publicly discussed its drone program, the new documents cover a period when it did not acknowledge the program's existence. According to the Post, the documents from the U.S. are marked “top secret” but cleared for sharing with Pakistan.
Reached for comment by the Post, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry demurred on the specific claims but stated the current Pakistani government’s policy on drones.
“Whatever understandings there may or may not have been in the past, the present government has been very clear regarding its policy on the issue,” Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry told the Post.
“We regard such strikes as a violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. They are also counterproductive,” he added.
According to the Post, the CIA declined to comment on the new revelations but did not refute them.
In a prominent speech in May, President Barack Obama referred to the drone program for the first time. While the president acknowledged criticism of it and pledged increased future oversight, he mounted a strong defense of its continued use.
While the U.S. claims that drones are an important tool against terrorism, they are deeply unpopular in many parts of the world, including Pakistan, where the government has taken a firm public line against their use.
At the U.N. General Assembly last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged the U.S. to stop drone attacks, saying the program was “a continued violation of our territorial integrity.”
"The war against terrorism must be waged within the framework of international law," Sharif said (PDF). "I have urged the United States to cease these strikes, so that we could avert further casualties and suffering."
Sharif followed his speech in New York with a series of meetings and events in Washington this week. On Wednesday, he met with Obama at the White House and reiterated his government’s opposition to the U.S. program, emphasizing “the need for an end to such strikes.”
Meanwhile, new reports from international human rights organizations claimed that the use of drones by the U.S. has caused unnecessary civilian deaths, sown fear and chaos, and violated standards of international law.
An expert from one of the groups, Amnesty International, called the U.S. program an “accountability vacuum.”
Those reports came just days after the U.N. released its own findings on U.S. drone use, also faulting the lack of accountability for the program and raising questions about international law and civilian deaths.