Pakistan lawmakers demand end to drone strikes
(CBS/AP) ISLAMABAD - A Pakistani parliamentary committee demanded on Tuesday an end to American drone attacks inside the country as part of proposed new terms of engagement with the United States.
The demand could complicate efforts to rebuild U.S.-Pakistani ties that were all but severed by U.S. air strikes in November along the Afghan border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The attack also led to Pakistan's closure of NATO supply lines to Afghanistan.
The committee of lawmakers suggested Tuesday that the supply lines would not be permanently cut, as many Pakistanis would like, though it did not explicitly link the issue of the drones and the border closure.
Also recommended by the committee was an insistence for a full, unqualified apology for the deadly air strikes in November.
The committee suggested that half of the cross-border NATO cargo should be moved via Pakistan's rail network, rather than in trucks, reports CBS News' Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad. Moving cargo by rail would allow Pakistan's government to easily tax the shipments, which it cannot do when NATO supplies cross the border in truck convoys.
While the committee's demands were not presented as conditions for the reopening of the border to NATO traffic, a senior official from Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's office tells CBS News they, "have set the direction for the resumption of cargo supplies through Pakistan to Afghanistan."
"There are other conditions in addition to the railways," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The basic point, however, is that these conditions for a way forward suggest we are setting new goal posts for our relations with the U.S."
"If the intention was to keep the route shut, that would have been a straight forward 'no', added the official. "Clearly, this isn't a no."
The most difficult demand from a U.S. perspective will be the one calling for an end to drone strikes. A senior official at the Defense Ministry tells CBS News that Pakistan's army commanders have repeatedly asked the U.S. to help the country acquire its own drones to target suspected militant locations. The U.S. military has been reluctant to share its drone technology with Pakistan.
"The issue is not the tactic alone," said the official. "The issue is also that of ownership. If Pakistan owns the drones, then we will have the capacity to defend their use as part of our policy. Maybe the parliament can even sanction their use, provided Pakistan has ownership of the drones."
Washington wants to rebuild its relationship with Pakistan, which is important to the success of striking a deal with insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan.
But U.S. officials also say the drone strikes are key to success against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and has kept up the attacks despite public opposition by the Pakistani army and government. The issue is muddied, however, by the fact that in private the Pakistani army has been known to agree to at least some of the strikes, and provide intelligence for them.
The November attacks prompted a wave of anti-Americanism inside Pakistan, and the security establishment has tried to leverage that to establish new terms with the United States. Seeking political cover for the decision, the army and government ordered a parliamentary commission to come up with recommendations for a new relationship.
The head of the parliament committee, Raza Rabbani, read out the demands on Tuesday.
Lawmakers will now debate the demands, something that will last two or three days, before voting on them.
The government and the army will decide on whether to reopen ties with the United States, but the debate could influence the decision. Most analysts and lawmakers predict the country will reopen the supply lines soon and that the U.S. will also continue with drone strikes, the frequency of which has dropped significantly in recent months, which makes them less politically explosive in the country.
A permanent break with Washington, which along with other Western nations helps keep the Pakistani economy afloat, is not seen as likely.
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