Pakistan Unveils its Own Military Surveillance Drones

Pakistan’s military unveiled two domestically produced drones Monday, even as the country is facing growing protests over U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil.

After years of preparation, the “Strategically Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” were formally announced by military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. The drones, called Burraq and Shahpar, will not be armed and are to be used only for surveillance, military officials said.

The development of the drones, believed to have a range of about 75 miles, represents a significant milestone for the country’s military and scientists, Pakistani and western analysts said.

For years, Pakistan’s military has seen up-close the effectiveness of the United States’ drone campaign, which has included hundreds of strikes within their borders. When the United States began using armed drones after the Sept, 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf asked President George W. Bush to supply drone technology to his country.

The United States declined, setting in motion the nuclear-armed nation’s homegrown effort to develop the technology.

Pakistan’s military first revealed its new drone technology at a trade show last year, but Monday’s formal unveiling coincides with an ongoing farewell tour by Kayani, who is retiring after two terms as army chief.
Muhammad Saad, a former Pakistani military senior officer familiar with the subject, said Pakistan is still years away from being able to develop armed drones. Still, Monday’s announcement will likely unnerve Pakistan’s neighbors, including India and Afghanistan.

The military’s announcement comes as Pakistan is facing growing discontent over recent U.S. drone strikes, including an attack earlier this month that killed the leader of the Pakistan Taliban.

As a result of that strike, as well as one last week that killed several commanders affiliated with the Haqqani extremist network, angry protests continued Monday in Pakistan’s Kyhber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Since Saturday, supporters of the province’s chief political leader, Imran Khan, have been attempting to disrupt NATO supply convoys traveling to and from landlocked Afghanistan. The protesters set up checkpoints on at least three suspected supply routes, requiring truck drivers to verify they are not carrying goods for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, some truck drivers were dragged out of their vehicles by protesters, but local police said Monday that they would try to guarantee safe passage.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly condemned the strikes but has vowed NATO supply routes will remain open.

After last week’s strike, Sharif’s government issued a statement saying it has the capability to shoot down U.S. drones. [via]

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