Skip to main content

Ex-Pakistani President Musharraf admits secret deal with U.S. on drone strikes

By Nic Robertson and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 5:37 AM EDT, Fri April 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • FIRST ON CNN: Musharraf says Pakistan OK'd U.S. drone strikes "on a few occasions"
  • He says sometimes "you couldn't delay," noting the "enemy" could be elusive and "vicious"
  • Pakistani officials have long condemned U.S. drone strikes and denied any role in them
  • A drone killed Militant Nek Mohammed, Musharraf says; Pakistan had credited its military

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Ex-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf acknowledged his government secretly signed off on U.S. drone strikes, the first time a top past or present Pakistani official has admitted publicly to such a deal.

Pakistani leaders long have openly challenged the drone program and insisted they had no part in it. Musharraf's admission, though, suggests he and others did play some role, even if they didn't oversee the program or approve every attack.

In an interview this week in Islamabad, Musharraf insisted Pakistan's government signed off on strikes "only on a few occasions, when a target was absolutely isolated and no chance of collateral damage."

Still, his admission that Pakistani leaders agreed to even a limited number of strikes runs counter to their repeated denunciations of a program they long claimed the United States was operating without their approval. The drone strikes -- which the nonpartisan public policy group New American Foundation estimates have killed at least 1,990 people in Pakistan, including hundreds of civilians -- are unpopular in Pakistan.

Secret drone deal between Pakistan, U.S.
Former Pakistani president's new life
Shoe hurled at former Pakistani president

"Today, the world superpower is having its own way, without any consent from Pakistan," former Interior Minister Rehman Malik said last month.

Despite such pronouncements, there's been speculation that the story might have been different behind the scenes.

In a cable sent in August 2008 and later posted online by Wikileaks, then-U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson mentioned a discussion about drones during a meeting that also involved Malik and then-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

"Malik suggested we hold off alleged Predator attacks until after the Bajaur operation," Patterson wrote. "The PM brushed aside Rehman's remarks and said, 'I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.' "

Unmanned U.S. drones began launching attacks in Pakistan in 2004, by which time Musharraf had been president for five years after taking power in a bloodless coup.

He said that Pakistani leaders would OK U.S. drone strikes after discussions involving military and intelligence units and only if "there was no time for our own ... military to act."

This happened "only rarely," said Musharraf, who left office in 2008 and spent years in exile before returning to Pakistan last month to launch a political comeback. But sometimes, he said, "you couldn't delay action."

"These ups and downs kept going," he said. "It was a very fluid situation, a vicious enemy, ... mountains, inaccessible areas."

Musharraf said that one of those killed by U.S. drones was Nek Mohammed, a tribal leader accused of harboring al Qaeda militants in Pakistan's western border region. At the time, in June 2004, Pakistan intelligence sources said Mohammed died after Pakistani forces launched a missile at a house where he was staying.

Anti-drone bill advances in Florida

Drones -- by the numbers

Pakistani military battles militants near border with Afghanistan

CNN's Nic Robertson reported this story from Pakistan, and Greg Botelho wrote it in Atlanta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Hamas' tactics have changed -- now the group is using commando-like tactics, says CNN's Ben Wedeman.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
updated 5:51 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
A nun, an AIDS researcher, an athlete and a family traveling on summer vacation. These were some of the victims aboard MH17.
updated 8:21 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Prince George isn't your average one year old. He started walking before he was one. Oh, and, he's going to be king -- of 16 countries.
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Former President Bill Clinton acknowledges he got "very close" to helping achieve peace in the Middle East.
updated 2:21 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
In an ambitious plan to upgrade urban India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will build 100 "smart cities" across the country.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Inspirational, creepy or just weird? CNN meets the 51-year-old man who dresses like a schoolgirl.
updated 7:00 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material.
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Yoga, meditation and watching a snake eat a frog alive: these are some of the experiences to be had at this Himalayan yoga retreat.
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province, experts say.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT