Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistan Parliament ’

U.S. and Pakistan Take Step to Mend Relations

By Salman Masood and Declan Walsh for The New York Times

President Obama took a symbolic step toward improving ties with Pakistan on Tuesday when he met with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of a nuclear summit meeting in South Korea.

But even as the two leaders made polite, if freighted, comments about improved cooperation, harsh debate in Pakistan’s Parliament on Tuesday made clear that there may be very little political upside for any Pakistani warming toward Washington.

Speaking in Seoul, President Obama acknowledged “strains” in the relationship and voiced his support for a parliamentary review process in Pakistan that aims to get the relationship back on its feet. “I think it’s important for us to get it right,” he said at a joint news conference.

But Mr. Obama added that Pakistan must also respect pressing American security concerns centered on “national security and our needs to battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past.”

Mr. Gilani replied that he would help work with Mr. Obama “to have all the peace, prosperity and progress of the whole world.”

Relations between the two countries plunged steeply after the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May, then worsened further after American warplanes fired airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan in November.

The border strikes caused Pakistan to close NATO supply routes into Afghanistan and expel American officials from a remote air based used by the C.I.A. to launch drone strikes against militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwestern Pakistani tribal belt. More recently, a Pakistani parliamentary committee on national security demanded an end to drone strikes and an unconditional American apology for the airstrikes.

In Islamabad on Tuesday, Parliament was supposed to start a long-awaited debate that would pave the way toward re-engaging diplomatically with the United States. But the opposition stalled the debate, with some lawmakers expressing fury at news reports that the government had already promised to reopen the NATO supply lines.

Ayaz Amir, an influential lawmaker with the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party, questioned why Pakistan even bothered blocking the supply routes if it was assumed they would start right back up again. “We are fooling ourselves, and we are also fooling the Pakistani people,” he said.

The most scathing criticism came from Maulana Fazalur Rehman, an influential religious politician, who warned that if the government failed to win broad political backing for its review of American ties, he would take his protests onto the streets.

“We will not let such a decision to be implemented in the field,” he said.

Mr. Rehman asserted that given urgent efforts by the Americans to start negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, American weapons transported through NATO supply lines could ultimately be turned back on Pakistan, earning loud applause from fellow lawmakers. And he asked how the government intended to bring covert American operations in Pakistan under the law of the land.

Raza Rabbani, a senior government lawmaker, responded that the parliamentary committee’s recommendations on American policy were “broad policy guidelines” and not a final decision.

The session was adjourned until Wednesday evening, when the formal debate is due to begin. Meanwhile, outside Parliament, a newly formed alliance of religious parties and extremist groups, the Defense of Pakistan Council, held a large street rally against the reopening of the supply routes.

“If Parliament compromises on the security and sovereignty of the country, then we cannot guarantee the security of the lawmakers,” said Maulana Sami ul-Haq, head of the alliance, as hundreds of protesters chanted anti-American slogans.

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Pakistani Panel Demands End to US Drone Attacks, Apology for NATO Air Strike

As Reported By The Voice Of America

A Pakistani parliamentary committee — tasked with laying out new terms of engagement with the United States and NATO — on Tuesday demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes and an apology from Washington for a NATO strike last year that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops.

The report, read to a joint session of both houses of parliament by committee chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, calls on the United States to review its activities and cease all drone attacks inside Pakistan.

Rabbani said that “drone strikes are counterproductive, cause loss of valuable lives and property, radicalize the local population, create support for terrorists and fuel anti-American sentiments.”

U.S. lawmakers, however, are rejecting those calls. Independent Senator Joe Lieberman told VOA the drone strikes are critically important to America’s national security, adding he does not believe they should stop.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the drones are needed due to the lack of a more aggressive effort by Pakistan to root out terrorists and radical militants along its border with Afghanistan.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that although sovereignty is a big issue for any country, he would like to see Pakistan embrace the idea that extremism has no welcome home in Pakistan. He said drone strikes have been effective and that, in his words, “it is not in Pakistan’s long-term interest to be seen by the world-at-large as a safe haven for terrorists.”

Rabbani also demanded an unconditional U.S. apology for the NATO airstrike in November that killed the 24 Pakistani soldiers. He said “the condemnable and unprovoked NATO/ISAF attack” represents “a breach of international law and constitutes a blatant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Washington has expressed regret for the loss of life and accepted partial responsibility for the airstrike, but has so far refused to apologize, saying NATO forces acted in self-defense.

Pakistani lawmakers are expected to eventually approve the panel’s recommendations. But, ultimately, Pakistan’s government and powerful army have the final say in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland Tuesday said she would not comment on the issue until the process is completed.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told reporters outside of Parliament that Pakistan needs to balance good diplomatic relations with its own interests.

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