Pakistani lawmakers call for end to US drone strikes

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani lawmakers on Tuesday took aim at one of the most potent U.S. weapons against militants, recommending that a cessation of drone missile strikes in their country's volatile tribal areas be part of a blueprint to end a four-month freeze in relations between Washington and Islamabad.

So far, however, Pakistani officials have yet to explain what they would do if the U.S. ignored the demand.

In the past, Islamabad has publicly condemned U.S. drone strikes but tacitly allowed them to take place. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, point man in parliament for the main opposition party, PML-N, questioned the government's resolve to enforce a ban, given that past resolutions against drone strikes were never heeded.

"What's the guarantee that, keeping in mind our previous record, there won't be any backtracking again?" Khan said during the session. "Won't we have egg on our face once again?"

The recommendation to the full parliament was one of a series of measures taken up at a joint session of lawmakers as they began a long-awaited debate on ground rules that Pakistan says should frame its future alliance with Washington. Parliament in turn will make a nonbinding recommendation to the government.

Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan have been on hold since Nov. 26, when errant U.S. airstrikes along the Afghan border killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The attack, which Pakistan insisted was unprovoked and deliberate, was seen by most Pakistanis as the last straw in a deeply troubled relationship that for years has been marred by mutual mistrust and a divergence of interests.

After the incident, Pakistan retaliated by prohibiting Afghanistan-bound NATO supply convoys from using its territory as a transit route. Roughly 40 percent of NATO's non-lethal supplies had moved by truck from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to crossings on the Afghan border. Islamabad also forced the U.S. to vacate an air base in southern Pakistan that has been suspected as a launch pad for CIA drone attacks.

Drone strikes stopped for six weeks following the Nov. 26 incident, but then resumed in mid-January. Since then, at least 10 suspected U.S. attacks have been carried out in Pakistan's tribal areas, according to the Long War Journal, a website that maintains statistics on the U.S. drone campaign.

"The U.S. must review its footprints in Pakistan," said Sen. Raza Rabbani, chairman of the legislative committee, reading the proposed ground rules for a reset in U.S.-Pakistan relations. "This means the cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan."

The recommendations also call on the Pakistani government to seek an unconditional apology from the U.S. for the Nov. 26 attack.

The drone campaign is one of the most contentious elements in the U.S.-Pakistan alliance. Most Pakistanis vehemently oppose such strikes, viewing them as a blatant breach of their country's sovereignty. And yet, some within Pakistan acknowledge that the attacks have been effective in eroding the capability of various militant groups ensconced in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.

While lawmakers will likely approve the new set of ground rules for U.S.-Pakistan relations, the Pakistani military remains the ultimate arbiter over foreign policy matters.

"It's all about how clear a position the military will take," said Ayaz Amir, a PML-N lawmaker. "There has been ambiguity over (drone strikes), saying something in public for the gallery, but also saying, 'All right, we know this is an effective weapon against terrorism.' "

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