Pakistan still wants drones after successful U.S. strike

Pakistan's prime minister reiterated the country's call for control over U.S. drone strikes even as a captured Taliban spokesman reportedly confirmed that the group's leader had been killed in an Aug. 5 American attack.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who met with U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke in Islamabad on Monday, said the Obama administration should put the missile strikes by the unmanned aerial vehicles in his government's hands.

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"Drone attacks remain a matter of public concern in Pakistan," Gilani said, in comments carried by Pakistan's Daily Times. "The U.S. should provide drone technology to Pakistan, enabling its armed forces to take action against terrorists."

Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen were asked by Pakistan in April to turn over the unmanned drone missions; Islamabad said that the drone strikes were fueling extremism.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari also said in an April interview with The Independent that Pakistan would go after high-value targets on its own if the U.S. would hand over its drone technology and intelligence.

The renewed call for U.S. drone control comes on the heels of an August strike by an American craft that struck the house of the father-in-law of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.

Pakistani officials said Tuesday that captured Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar, who was one of three Taliban representatives who claimed to media outlets after the strike that Mehsud was still alive, said the Taliban leader was indeed dead.

Pakistani newspaper Dawn cited intelligence sources involved in the questioning of Omar; the statements would be the first Taliban admission of Mehsud's death.

Holbrooke told CNN that Washington was convinced Mehsud was dead because he wasn't bucking for airtime to claim the U.S. strike had failed.

"The reason it's clear he's dead is that if he weren't dead, he'd be giving TV and radio interviews to prove he's not dead," Holbrooke said Monday.

Holbrooke added that Mehsud’s death has sparked “a succession crisis” among the Pakistani Taliban. “The chaos benefits us but it doesn’t mean that this thing is over,” Holbrooke said.

But Gilani's call for drone control, even in the wake of a successful strike, also comes as polling has shown Pakistani opinion of the U.S. and its anti-terror operations in the tank.

A poll of more than 2,500 Pakistanis, conducted across rural and urban areas at the end of July by Gallup Pakistan for al-Jazeera, found that 41 percent favored their government's military operation against the Taliban, while 22 percent claimed neutrality and 24 percent opposed.

But only 9 percent approved of U.S. strikes by unmanned drones against Taliban and al Qaeda targets.

A whopping 59 percent — a figure that cut fairly evenly across party lines, gender, language and age — said that the U.S. is the greatest threat to Pakistan. Only 11 percent named the Taliban, and 18 percent said India was the greatest threat. Twelve percent responded "don't know."

The poll was conducted roughly a month after the Senate unanimously passed the Kerry-Lugar aid bill, which triples aid to Pakistan, totaling $7.5 billion over five years and advocating an additional $7.5 billion over the subsequent five years.

The bill also detaches military aid from civilian aid in an attempt to give greater attention to development aid, and ties military aid to concerted efforts by security forces to battle the Taliban and al Qaeda.

A Pew Global Attitudes poll released Thursday found a similarly bleak view of the U.S., with 64 percent regarding America as an enemy and just 9 percent describing the U.S. as a partner. Just 13 percent expressed confidence in President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaFrench president sets red line on Syria chemical weapons Perez: Honor the fallen by helping veterans EPA chief puts new spotlight on cleanup program MORE, and 16 percent held a favorable view of the U.S.

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Still, the majority of respondents — 72 percent — support U.S. financial and humanitarian aid to areas of Pakistan where extremists operate. The face-to-face polling was conducted from late May to early June.

The Pakistani government's continued call for drone technology reacts to the view of 93 percent of Pakistanis in the Pew survey who feel that that missile strikes kill too many civilians. Just 34 percent saw the strikes as necessary, and 58 percent thought the strikes were being conducted without the Pakistani government's approval.

However, 63 percent approved of the U.S. providing intelligence to Pakistan, which the country could then use in actions against extremists.

Holbrooke also told Pakistani reporters Monday that he was "obviously hopeful that [Zardari] will complete his role as democratically elected president." Holbrooke said he felt that the tense political situation in Pakistan since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's widower came to power had improved due to greater cooperation and dialogue.

Zardari has sunk to a 32 percent approval rating while opposition leader Nawaz Sharif enjoys 79 percent favorability.

The Pew survey reflects the fears of political observers regarding the political infighting in Islamabad: 69 percent of those polled worried that extremists could take control of Pakistan.

“Democracy is critically important in Pakistan," Holbrooke said. "Let there be no mistake about it."