x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Report calls for end to US drone strikes on Pakistan

A Pakistani parliamentary panel opens, demanding the US to halt drone attacks.

ISLAMABAD // A Pakistani parliamentary panel yesterday demanded that the United States halt its drone attacks in the wild and lawless tribal belt of the country, bordering Afghanistan, as legislators opened a crucial debate to redefine military cooperation with Washington.

The US, which is increasingly using drone attacks to hit key targets, is unlikely to stop the attacks.

Privately, many Pakistani legislators agree with the drone strikes. But they face anger from ordinary Pakistanis over the number of civilians killed in these raids.

It is an issue that severely complicates relations between the two countries trying to work closely to bring peace to Afghanistan and wipe out other militant operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US and Pakistan became close and vital allies against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militants in the region after the September 11 attacks.

Despite billions of dollars in US military and humanitarian aid since then, the relationship has soured. Programmes have been stopped or curtailed because of the killing of aid workers.

Accusations by the US that Pakistan's top spy agency is still supporting some militants, combined with the civilian deaths in drone attacks, the killing of 25 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border by a US air strike and the secret US special forces raid to kill Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani military town, have driven relations between the two countries to a low.

Pakistan has stopped supplies for foreign forces in Afghanistan passing through its roads - that is about half all non-lethal supplies they receive.

The US has said mistakes were made on both sides, expressed regret, but not apologised for the deaths.

The November deaths of the Pakistani soldiers forced Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, to ask the parliamentary committee on national security to draw up new "terms of engagement" with the US.

The government's close ties with the US, and a reported plea for help to head off a possible army coup over anger at the US bin Laden raid have added to the divide between it and the military - the most powerful institution in the country.

"It needs to be realised [by the US] that the drone strikes are counterproductive," Raza Rabbani, the head of the parliamentary committee, yesterday told a joint sitting of both houses of Pakistan's parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate.

"These attacks radicalise the local population, create support for the terrorists and fuel anti-American sentiments."

Without referring to May's raid that killed bin Laden, Mr Rabbani said there should not be any "hot pursuit" or "foreign boots" on Pakistani territory.

After its debate, the parliament will soon make its recommendations to the government.

The parliamentary panel wants more rights to inspect Nato supplies passing through Pakistan, and more taxes on goods as well as logistical facilities used by the Nato forces for their supplies.

Analysts said the government, fighting a growing Islamist insurgency as well as a failing economy, will reopen the supply routes because it cannot afford to lose the tax revenue.

"Relations between Pakistan and America will keep on having such ups and downs, said Taloot Masood, a former general and now a political analyst.

"Despite posturing and rhetoric, both countries will continue to find ways to work with each other. Neither of them can afford a complete break off," he said.