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Ex-Pakistani President Admits to Consenting to U.S. Drone Strikes

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 8:25 PM

I wonder what Ben Emmerson was thinking when he watched CNN this evening. Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights who is conducting an investigation into the legality of the U.S. targeted killing program, concluded after a visit to Pakistan last month, that  the U.S. drone program was “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” because it was “being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate Government of the State [of Pakistan].”

Not according to ex-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who admitted to CNN’s Nic Robertson—the first time a Pakistani official has ever done so publicly—that his government authorized U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory:

Musharraf acknowledged that he consented to strikes “only on very few occasions, where the target was absolutely isolated and had no chance of collateral damage.” He also said that when the Pakistani army couldn’t get to a target, a drone strike was authorized “maybe two or three times only.” When asked about Nek Mohammed—a high-level Taliban militant whom Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times revealed this weekend was killed in a secret deal between Pakistan and the United States—Musharraf admitted that the story that was told at the time that the Pakistani army was responsible for the strike was a lie.

Although it is a striking development for President Musharraf to admit publicly that he gave the United States Pakistan’s consent, the information that he did so is hardly a revelation. It is relatively well-established that his government denounced or ignored the drone program in public but winked at it in private. This has been the conventional wisdom for some time, as reflected in, for example, my interview with Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Daniel Markey, in which we discuss U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism cooperation. And you’ll recall Musharraf’s infamous line about covering up U.S. drone strikes in his country: “In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time.”

Musharraf returned to Pakistan two weeks ago from self-exile to run in the upcoming Pakistani parliamentary elections despite death threats from the Taliban. His party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, had its applications to run rejected in the districts of Karachi and Kasur, approved in Chitral, and pending in Islamabad. And Musharraf has already been summoned in front of Pakistan’s Supreme Court over allegations of treason, reports Dawn. It will be interesting to see how Musharraf’s public confirmation of Pakistani involvement in a program so many Pakistanis and outsiders oppose will affect his party’s already-poor chances of winning seats in the May 11 election.