Pakistani Parliament Demands End to U.S. Drone Strikes
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A major parliamentary review of relations with the United States opened on Tuesday with calls for an end to drone strikes and an unconditional apology for an American attack on Pakistani soldiers last November.
The demands, which were read to Parliament by the chairman of a cross-party national security committee, set a tough tone for a long-awaited debate that the United States hopes will trigger a resumption of full diplomatic relations and the reopening of NATO supply lines through Pakistan.
“The U.S. must review its footprints in Pakistan,” said the five-page document which read like a laundry list of Pakistani requests to the Obama administration. “No overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be tolerated,” it stated.
American hopes that the parliamentary review would conclude by the end of this week received a setback when the speaker adjourned the debate until Monday, ostensibly to allow the opposition to consider its position.There was another possible reason: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is locked in a bruising confrontation with the senior judiciary that is due to resume in the Supreme Court on Wednesday and which could, under one scenario, see him resign by the weekend.
Stressing that the United States should respect Pakistani “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” the committee called on the Central Intelligence Agency to halt its drone strike campaign in the tribal belt, which has resulted in at least 265 attacks since January 2008.
In the future, it added, there should be no American “hot pursuit or boots on Pakistani territory” — a possible reference to the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in May 2011 — and tighter controls on foreign security companies operating in the country.
Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders are hoping to leverage anger at the November shooting incident, in which American warplanes killed 24 soldiers in strikes along the northwestern border with Afghanistan, to gain concessions from the United States. The committee called for a “thorough revision” of the agreement governing the 1,000-mile NATO supply route through Pakistan.
Pakistani officials say they intend to levy a transit tax on American military goods passing through their territory. The committee report suggested that half of all NATO traffic should in future be moved via the country’s dilapidated railway network. The supplies currently move by road.
The recommendations are not binding. But they are the product of cross-party consensus and will shape the mood of next week’s debate, which is likely to last two or three days.
Some clauses acknowledged American concerns — the “elimination of terrorism and combating extremism,” promotion of peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and strengthening security along the notoriously porous Afghan border.
But others stressed ties with American strategic rivals, such as China and Russia, and called on President Asif Ali Zardari’s government to “actively pursue” a planned gas pipeline from Iran — a project that Washington has strongly opposed.
“The recommendations are excellent,” said Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, a senior Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker, outside Parliament. “Sovereignty and territorial integrity are the cornerstone of our foreign policy.”
Kamil Ali Agha, a senator from the PML-Q party, predicted a “very detailed and very lively” debate next week. “This is a very, very important issue for each and every Pakistani,” he said.
A resumption of full diplomatic relations with the Obama administration now looks unlikely before mid-April. American officials say they are ready to negotiate tariffs on NATO transit goods but will not consider an end to the C.I.A. drone campaign, which is viewed as a vital weapon against Al Qaeda and Taliban extremists operating from Pakistani soil.
The United States is also likely to offer a form of official apology, probably from the military, for the November shooting incident. Plans to apologize earlier in March were shelved after controversy exploded in Afghanistan over the mistaken burning of Korans at Bagram Air Base.