Pakistan says US not listening: Drone strikes must stop

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar gestures as she speaks during a news conference in Kabul February 1, 2012. — Reuters picPakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar gestures as she speaks during a news conference in Kabul February 1, 2012. — Reuters picISLAMABAD— Pakistan has spelt out in no uncertain terms that US drone aircraft strikes against militants inside its territory must stop, but Washington is not listening, the country’s foreign minister said.

“On drones, the language is clear: a clear cessation of drone strikes,” Hina Rabbani Khar said.

“I maintain the position that we’d told them categorically before. But they did not listen. I hope their listening will improve,” she told Reuters in an interview late yesterday.

The attacks by the unmanned aircraft from Afghanistan, which US officials say are highly effective against militants, fuel anti-American sentiment in Pakistan because they are seen as violations of sovereignty that inflict civilian casualties.

Khar’s sharp comments on the drone strikes came ahead of a two-day visit to Islamabad by the United States’ special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman.

Ambassador Grossman was due to hold bilateral meetings with Pakistani officials and take part in a “core group” meeting with officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the United States is hoping to revive stalled peace talks with the Taliban.

Ties between Pakistan and the United States, allies in the war on militancy, have lurched from crisis to crisis as they spar over security, assistance and the future of Afghanistan.

An unannounced raid on Pakistani soil by US special forces who killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last May plunged relations to a low, and tensions were further stoked in November when a NATO attack across the border from Afghanistan killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

After a review of ties with Washington, a Pakistani parliamentary committee laid out a series of demands, including an end to US drone strikes.

Khar said other methods should be used to take out militants in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We have to look at effective tools which are mutually acceptable. The cost of using tools which are not mutually acceptable is far, far too high. We’re looking at alternatives,” she said, without elaborating.

The commander of the frontline corps in Pakistan’s northwest told Reuters last week that one alternative would be for the United States to share intelligence so that its ally’s F-16 fighter jets could target militants there.



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