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Pakistan calls for end to U.S. drone attacks

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Parliament unanimously demanded Thursday that the United States end its long campaign of drone strikes inside Pakistani territory, a vital component of the Obama administration’s strategy against al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

But lawmakers, acting after weeks of fractious debate, tacitly allowed the passage of oil, food and other nonlethal goods across the country’s borders to supply NATO troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan has barred NATO convoys for several months in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border outposts.

Reflecting public anger over the war in Afghanistan, drone attacks and other elements of U.S. policy, some 440 lawmakers supported the recommendations of a national security committee that set out to reconfigure what it called Pakistan’s “terms of engagement” with the United States. The two countries entered into a counterterrorism partnership shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“Pakistan’s sovereignty shall not be compromised,” Parliament declared Thursday in adopting the new policy guidelines.

The proposals also seek to bar private security contractors and intelligence operatives from working in the country and to ban the shipment of arms and ammunition through Pakistani territory or airspace into Afghanistan.

How such prohibitions would be enforced remains to be seen. The guidelines are not binding on the government, and in many ways, the vote seemed meant largely as a salve to a national ego that in the past year has suffered several blows — among them the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2 and the Nov. 26 border strikes, which the United States has said were accidental.

Twice before in recent years, Parliament has passed resolutions calling for the end of the CIA drone attacks against militants, but they continued with the unspoken cooperation of the Pakistani army, intelligence service and leading politicians.

“I assure this house that the resolution that we are approving today will be implemented both in letter and spirit,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the joint parliamentary session.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States respected the seriousness with which Parliament conducted its review of U.S.-Pakistani relations, adding, “We look forward to discussing these policy recommendations with the Government of Pakistan and continuing to engage with it on our shared interests.”

The debate that galvanized Parliament marked the first time that Pakistan’s civilian leadership has made a serious effort to set foreign policy, long the military’s domain.

Parliament also called for an unconditional U.S. apology for the border bombing, which many in Pakistan saw as intentional.

“I have told the U.S. that as long as the Pakistani people are not satisfied, our strategic partnership couldn’t be a successful partnership,” Gilani said.

Earlier, Pakistani policymakers had sought to increase tariffs on NATO oil and other supplies, but the new recommendations do not mention money. Analysts say they expect the United States to offer soon some form of increased compensation in exchange for Pakistan’s cooperation with the war effort.

From Washington’s perspective, the debate in Parliament was a healthy exercise in democracy but one that is unlikely to affect the drone war. The military leaders of both nations see the drones as efficient and effective in eliminating hard-core Islamic militants that plague both the U.S. and Pakistani armies.

The guidelines do indicate some common ground in a contentious relationship marked by mistrust on both sides. “Pakistan reaffirms its commitment to the elimination of terrorism and combating extremism in pursuance of its national interest,” they say.

Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.

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