Pakistan takes hard line with US over drone attacks

Wed, Mar 21, 2012, 00:00

MISSILE ATTACKS by unmanned US aircraft on militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas must end before Islamabad and Washington can restore full diplomatic relations, a Pakistani parliamentary committee has said.

The tough recommendations drawn up by the national security committee of Pakistan’s national assembly are intended to form the basis of a new partnership between Pakistan and the US.

The two countries have been at odds since a US aircraft in Afghanistan fired on a Pakistani frontier post last November, killing 24 soldiers. The incident sparked outrage in Pakistan and led to senior American officials being told they were not welcome in Pakistan, a ban on transporting vital supplies for Nato forces in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory and the eviction of US personnel from an airbase.

Although the plans will be debated by parliamentarians before being finalised, the uncompromising stance on the CIA’s drone programme could permanently trouble relations between the two countries as the US is unlikely to abandon a strategy it believes has been highly successful in killing dangerous Islamic militants.

Drone strikes have continued, albeit at a reduced pace, despite the terrible state of relations between the two countries.

The Pakistani government itself has had an ambivalent attitude to drones, publicly decrying them but privately approving of attacks against insurgents.

One of the classified US diplomatic cables leaked to WikiLeaks reported Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Pakistani prime minister, telling the Americans in 2008 he was happy for the strikes to continue: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the national assembly, then ignore it.”

Such private views of senior policymakers prompted speculation that some room for compromise would be left in the drone recommendation.

The committee also called for an end to “hot pursuit”, a concept that allows Nato forces to enter Pakistan if they are chasing insurgents. The use of “bases or airspace by foreign forces” will in future require parliamentary approval and foreign states will have to request permission for all of their spies working in Pakistan.

Some of the demands made in the report are expected to be met. They include an “unconditional apology” from the US for the November attack. The US has already said it “regrets” the incident, but the timing of a full apology has been delayed, not least by a Pakistani request that it should be made around the time of the parliamentary debate over the new terms of engagement.

The resumption of Nato supply convoys is also anticipated, with possible fees of $1 million a day for Pakistan. – (Guardian service)