Pakistan’s legislators urged to seek halt to U.S. drone strikes


Pakistani tribesmen shout anti-U.S. slogans during a February protest in Islamabad against drone attacks in the tribal regions. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Reflecting the anger of Pakistan’s public and its political leaders, a parliamentary commission on Tuesday called for an end to CIA drone attacks and demanded an unconditional apology for U.S. airstrikes along the Afghan border in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The committee’s report will be the basis for a debate by both chambers of Parliament on how to reframe the nation’s contentious relationship with the United States, whose counterterrorism alliance with Pakistan has been fractured by a series of perceived U.S. blows to Pakistani sovereignty. The debate will begin next week.

As expected, the commission said the transport of NATO supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan — frozen after the November border strike — could be revived. But it suggested higher tariffs and a requirement that half the goods travel on Pakistani rail lines.

Soon after the long-awaited report by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security was released in Islamabad, Parliament suspended debate until Monday. Opposition leaders said they wanted time to absorb the commission’s recommendations and consult with party members.

Some lawmakers asked for private briefings from military officials who are privy to secret agreements forged with U.S. forces or intelligence agencies about drone strikes and other operations. The report called for parliamentary approval of such deals, with requirements that terms be put in writing and that lawmakers have some sway over the presence of foreign intelligence operatives in the country.

“No overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be tolerated,” the report declared.

And, in an oblique reference to the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad last May, the report insisted on “no hot pursuit or boots on Pakistani soil.”

Politicians in Pakistan have for years demanded an end to drone attacks on Taliban and other insurgents in the country’s lawless tribal areas, even as they have privately countenanced such efforts because the attacks have benefited Pakistan’s own war against the Islamic radicals.

“Pakistan’s sovereignty shall not be compromised,” the report said. “It needs to be realized that drone attacks are counter-productive, cause loss of valuable lives and property, radicalize the local population, create support for terrorists and fuel anti American sentiments.”

In internal talks and a few rounds of secret, high-level bilateral conversations in recent months, both sides have tried to find a solution to the drone issue. The Obama administration has considered a number of concessions, including a target list sharply narrowed to “high-value targets” that can be discussed with Pakistan in advance, as well as some sort of notification before strikes occur.

Despite such knotty and delicate diplomatic issues, Washington has been hopeful that it will be able to improve relations with Islamabad, where official mistrust of U.S. motives runs deep — and vice versa.

One major stumbling block is the demand for a U.S. apology for the border killings; the United States says they were accidental and has expressed regret. The committee report says that “those held responsible for the . . . attack should be brought to justice.”

The State Department proposed, and the White House ultimately agreed, that President Obama would issue a full apology for the strikes by U.S warplanes. But the decision came on the day Obama apologized to Afghanistan for the burning of Korans there last month by the U.S. military; his statement has drawn criticism at home, and the Pakistan effort was indefinitely postponed.

The NATO supply convoys, which support the U.S.-backed war in Afghanistan, are another flash point. On Sunday in Peshawar, a group of clerics and politicians threatened to protest at the homes of any lawmakers who voted for the convoys to resume.

“We will mobilize the voters of the members in their respective areas to besiege their houses if they voted for the resumption of NATO supplies to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s soil,” said Maulana Sami ul-Haq, a pro-Taliban cleric who heads a coalition of religious and political splinter groups.

At the same time, the closing of the ground route for nearly four months has hit hard in an impoverished part of Pakistan. Haji Shakirullah Afridi, president of Khyber Transport Association, said: “Thousands of families’ bread and butter is linked with transportation for NATO. We are facing tough times.”

The Obama administration is tentatively prepared to begin paying a set rate for the transport, which the U.S. military had considered free passage until now.One suggestion under discussion is the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars authorized for annual payment in a Coalition Support Fund for Pakistani counterinsurgency activities.

The administration has adopted a hands-off approach toward Pakistan while awaiting Parliament’s recommendations and debate. U.S. officials were hopeful that the debate on the report would begin and end this week and had penciled in long-postponed trips to Islamabad next week by Marc Grossman, the administration’s top diplomat on Afghanistan and Pakistan; Thomas R. Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources; and Gen. James Mattis, head of the military’s Central Command.

It is unclear whether those trips will go forward during the Pakistani legislators’ debate, which might last two or three days.

Leiby reported from Kabul and DeYoung from Washington. Special correspondents Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, also contributed to this report.

Richard Leiby is a senior writer in Post’s Style section. His previous assignments have included Pakistan Bureau Chief, and reporter, columnist and editor in Washington. He joined The Post in 1991.
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