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UK govt funds poll in Pakistan on US drone attacks

Press Trust of India  |  London 

For the first time, Britain has admitted that it has been funding surveys in Pakistan's restive tribal areas that reveal US drone strikes against al- Qaeda and Taliban militants are causing deep resentment among local people.

In an answer to a parliamentary question, the foreign minister, Alistair Burt, confirmed that the Foreign Office had "supported" surveys which showed the proportion of respondents in the tribal areas who believed the CIA-operated drone strikes were "never justified" had risen from 59 per cent in 2010 to 63 per cent in 2011.

It appears to be the first time that the government has revealed it has carried out opinion polls on the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan - a programme on which it has refused to comment publicly, The Guardian reported.

Previously British ministers have said: "Drone strikes are a matter for the United States and Pakistan."

However, there have been claims that the British government has been complicit in the programme, sharing locational intelligence with US agencies to help them target the strikes, the report said.

The CIA's drone attacks targeting al-Qaeda and other militants in safe havens in the tribal regions has been controversial in Pakistan and became an election issue.

The Peshawar High Court last week declared that drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt were tantamount to a "war crime" and the armed forces would have the right to shoot down the spy planes.

The court also directed the Foreign Ministry to move a resolution against the drone attacks in the United Nations.

US officials have said the drones target Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in Pakistan's tribal regions who are blamed for cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan insists that the US spy planes kill innocent people, damage civilian property and are counter-productive to the war on terror.

Since 2004, the US has carried out over 350 drone strikes inside Pakistan, killing some of the top al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders. A number of civilians also died in the attacks.

Prime Minister-designate Nawaz Sharif last week said he wanted to strengthen Pakistan's testy ties with the US but insisted that the controversial drone attacks must end as it posed a "challenge" to national sovereignty.

"Drones indeed are challenging our sovereignty. Of course we have taken this matter up very seriously. I think this is a very serious issue, and our concern must be understood properly," Sharif said.

First Published: Sun, May 19 2013. 17:25 IST