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 10:39 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Tethered to an IV drip, 71-year-old Shin Young Ja lies under a thin fleece blanket, nursing a broken back and wracked with survivor's guilt.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
The Vice-Principal of Danwon High School was rescued from sinking ferry last week. Two days later he took his own life, wracked with survivor's guilt.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Family members of the missing passengers are pinning slim hopes on floundering air pockets.
updated 2:29 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
The world's most memorable accommodations don't always come with five stars. Sewer pipe hotel, anyone?
updated 10:01 PM EDT, Sun April 20, 2014
Love eating? Money? Appreciate efficient population density? HK might be the city for you.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Prince George takes a special interest in an Australian animal on a zoo trip.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
The Hadza are one of the last communities of hunter-gatherers in the world -- but losing their land.
updated 9:22 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
In choosing to change a traditional practice, Francis is being as radical as Jesus was in his own time.
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Too weak. Can't handle pressure. Unattractive to sponsors. Susie Wolff has heard it all.
updated 7:07 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
It's like finding a needle in a universe-wide haystack. Researchers have located a planet roughly the size of Earth that could be habitable.
updated 5:40 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Dubai, long champion of all things biggest, longest and most expensive, will soon have some competition from a neighboring country.
ADVERTISEMENT