Pakistani officials are accused of deep involvement in the US drone programme used by the Obama administration to hunt down suspected al-Qaeda fighters in the country. But hat has not stopped Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from publically calling on the US to end its drone programme.

On a visit to Washington, he said: "The use of drones is not only a continued violation of our territorial integrity but also detrimental to our efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country ... This issue has become a major irritant in our bilateral relationship as well. I would therefore stress the need to end drone attacks."

This kind of criticism has long been known to irritate officials in Washington, who have privately insisted drone attacks are sectretly sanctioned by officials in Islamabad.

I think the intelligence agencies, the military and the civilian leadership were all party to it but they didn't want to come in public because it would be a very bad public relations exercise, and it would show how weak Pakistan is ... allowing its sovereignty to be violated ... But the new civilian government has taken a different position. It says, well we were not a party to that and we think that ... the drones are doing much greater harm.

Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani army general

"Everybody knew that they [Pakistani officials] were heavily involved … the way in which it was done they could publicly say they're not but behind the scenes everybody knew it… Not only were they involved, they were letting us use their airstrips," says Larry Korb, a former assistant secretary of defence under the Reagan administration.

Secret CIA documents obtained by the Washington Post seem to confirm that Pakistani officials have known about drone strikes for years. And they even received classified American briefings about the operations and the number of casualties.

Drone strikes are an explosive issue in Pakistan. Amnesty International estimates they have killed as many as 900 Pakistani civilians and seriously injured at least 600 since 2004.

A joint report published by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch this week accuses the US of violating international human rights law by failing to prevent civilian casualties. Amnesty says US drone strikes could be classed as war crimes.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US gave Pakistan a stark choice: Either you are with us or against us.

Pakistan's president at the time, former Army General Pervez Musharraf, made the choice by becoming a key partner in what became known as the 'War on Terror'.

The relationship had its ups and downs but Musharraf acknowledged that his government signed off on a limited number of US drone strikes.

Yousuf Raza Gilani however, Pakistan's prime minister from 2008, strongly denies ever authorising US drone strikes. But he could not rule out deals made under Musharraf that may have continued during his time in office.

Critics increasingly point out that drone strikes are heightening anti-American anger.

Nabeel Khoury, a former US deputy chief of mission in Yemen recently wrote: "Drone strikes take out a few bad guys to be sure, but they also kill a large number of innocent civilians ... The US generates roughly 40 to 60 new enemies for every AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] operative killed by drones."

Is the US committing war crimes in Pakistan through drone strikes? Could the US be forced to stop its drone programme? And what is Pakistan's role in ending the drone war?

To discuss the growing controversy around the drone warfare in Inside Story, presenter Mike Hanna is joined by guests: Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani army general; Polly Truscott, the deputy Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International; and Larry Korb, a former assistant secretary of defence under the Reagan administration.

"We are not necessarily saying that the drone programme should be ended. What we are saying is that there are unlawful killings and we believe they should be investigated and those responsible brought to justice .... And if they [Pakistani officials] are supporting the strikes they should be sharing information they have on the numbers that they believe are unlawful killings ... They should provide adequate compensation to the victims of the drone strike killings and injuries. And they should be refraining from assisting the US further in any strikes if they are deemed unlawful. And we have evidence that some of those strikes were unlawful."

Polly Truscott, the deputy Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International

Source: Al Jazeera