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Pakistan lawmakers to debate end to U.S. drone strikes

From Nasir Habib and Reza Sayah, CNN
March 26, 2012 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
Pakistan's parliament calls for U.S. to halt drone strikes inside Pakistan, which killed two dozen soldiers last year.
Pakistan's parliament calls for U.S. to halt drone strikes inside Pakistan, which killed two dozen soldiers last year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The drone strike report was not called for debate Monday
  • A committee called last week for U.S. to halt drone strikes inside Pakistan
  • A committee member says he expects the recommendation to be approved
  • Such attacks have strained the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's parliament is expected this week to debate a committee's recommendation that the United States stop drone strikes inside its territory and apologize unconditionally for airstrikes last year that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.

"No entity in Pakistan -- in this current government, because I can only speak for this government -- has ever given any tacit agreement to the authorization of drone strikes," said Hina Rabbani Khar, the Pakistani foreign minister.

The Parliamentary Committee on National Security, a group of 18 members of parliament responsible for reviewing relations with the United States, made the recommendation in a report to lawmakers last week.

"No overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be tolerated," the report said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani created the Parliamentary Committee on National Security last November.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani created the Parliamentary Committee on National Security last November.

When lawmakers reconvened Monday, the committee's report was on the agenda, but the speaker did not call it up for debate. The joint session of the parliament must decide whether to act on the recommendations.

Hiader Abbas Rizvi, a committee member, said he expected the recommendations to be approved, but not before several days of debate.

"We kept in mind both the angles, domestic demands and the requirement by the international community, while compiling our recommendations," Rizvi said. "We were optimistic, progressive, but of course patriotic Pakistanis at the end while we were compiling the recommendations."

Calling on the Pakistani government to ensure that "the principles of an independent foreign policy" are observed, the report said that the United States "must review its footprints in Pakistan."

The three key points it listed in that regard were the cessation of drone strikes inside Pakistani borders, "no hot pursuit or boots on Pakistani territory," and the need for the activities of foreign private security contractors to be "transparent and subject to Pakistani law."

Pakistan FM speaks out on U.S. relations
U.S. drone strikes fuel Pakistani protests

Amid huge domestic and military pressure after NATO airstrikes on the Pakistani-Afghan border killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani created the committee.

Its report demanded an "unconditional apology from the United States for the unprovoked incident dated 25th-26th November 2011." It also said that those responsible for the airstrikes should be brought to justice.

"The government of Pakistan per se never asked for an apology. We would have certainly appreciated an apology right after the incident occurred," Khar said.

There has been a sharp drop in the number of drone attacks in Pakistan since the November NATO airstrike, which drove U.S.- Pakistan relations to a low point.

"Well, we were partners for the past 10 years. Did we get the respect that a partner deserves?" the Pakistani foreign minister asked. "A partner which has lost many lives. A partner which has had huge economic costs, a partner which did not charge you fees for allowing your routes, 1,000 miles or so, to be used."

The Pakistani government shut down the two NATO supply routes in the country after the attack and has since been reviewing its partnership with the United States.

Its government sent a letter to the U.S. Congress, calling the attack "the most recent example of the losses Pakistan has suffered fighting alongside the United States to combat terrorism and extremism."

An investigation into the incident by Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark on behalf of the United States concluded that Pakistan provoked NATO forces and distrust between the two parties led to the firefight.

Pakistan disputed the findings, saying Clark's report was factually incorrect.

U.S. officials rarely discuss the CIA's drone program in Pakistan, though privately they have said that the covert strikes are legal and an effective tactic in the fight against extremists.

In January, President Barack Obama defended the use of drone attacks, saying a "pinpoint strike" is "less intrusive" on other countries' sovereignty than other military ways to target al Qaeda.

"Our ability to respect the sovereignty of other countries and to limit our incursions into somebody else's territory is enhanced by the fact that we are able to pinpoint-strike an al Qaeda operative in a place where the capacities of that military in that country may not be able to get them," the president said.

Specifically, Obama said, "obviously a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA" -- the acronym for Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a semi-lawless region that is home to extremist groups fighting NATO and Afghan forces as well as Pakistani army regulars -- plus neighboring Afghanistan.

"For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military actions than the ones we're already engaging in," Obama said.

He gave no indication that the U.S. policy of ordering drone strikes would change, at least as long as a terrorist threat remains.

CNN's Shaan Khan and Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

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