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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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April 11th, 2013
06:19 PM ET

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf comes clean on drone strikes

By Nic Robertson

Deadly American drone strikes in Pakistan have soured U.S.-Pakistan relations for almost a decade.

"No Pakistani official has ever acknowledged sanctioning U.S. drone strikes, until now," Pervez Musharraf, former military leader of Pakistan, told CNN's Nic Robertson. "Only on a few occasions when a target was absolutely isolated, and no chance of collateral damage."

Musharraf was Pakistan's military ruler when drone strikes began in 2004, and was bitterly and publicly critical of them Now he admits there was a secret deal.

"One discussed at the military level, at the intelligence level to strike, and if at all there was no time for our own [Special Operation Task Force] and military to act then. Only rarely, maybe 2 or 3 times only," said Musharraf.

Back then, al Qaeda and Taliban fleeing U.S. forces in Afghanistan set up camp over the border in Pakistan's tribal region. The U.S. and Pakistan had a common enemy, and a common strategy - kill militants when they could.

"The answer used to be, you saw a fleeting target, you couldn't delay action, these ups and downs kept going. It was a very fluid situation, a vicious enemy, a fluid situation, mountains, inaccessible areas," said Musharraf.

By the time he was forced from office in 2008 Musharraf says he sanctioned only a couple of strikes. The vast majority came under the civilian government that followed him..

Since 2003 there have been more than 350 drone strikes in Pakistan, mostly in the semi-autonomous tribal border region close to Afghanistan. There are no precise figures for how many have been killed, but estimates range upwards of 2,000, among them an estimated several hundred civilians.

Most Pakistanis detest the drone program for the loss of life, and because it violates Pakistan's sovereignty. Ministers here routinely condemn them.

"What I can say is that today, the world super power is having its own way without any consent from Pakistan," said Rehman Malik, former Interior Minister of Pakistan.

But a diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks tells another story, recounting a meeting between the U.S. ambassador, Malik, and then Prime Minister Gilani.

She wrote, "Malik suggested we hold off alleged Predator attacks until after the Bajaur (military) operation. 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.' "

Musharraf too covered up U.S. drone attacks when it suited him. When militant Nek Mohammed was killed in 2004, the Pakistani army said it killed him in a rocket attack. Except it didn't.

Asked if Nek Mohammed was killed by a drone, or by Pakistani military, Musharraf replied, "U.S. drone."

"I think he, yes he was killed by U.S. drone, yes, so. But there was no agreement as such but every time we did object," added Musharraf.

Those objections were frequent, loud, and public – but not always sincere.

Friday on The Lead, we will have part 2 of our special on drones in Pakistan. Nic Robertson will explore whether these killings – not only of terrorists but also women and children - are creating a new generation of radicals.

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