Pakistan’s parliament unanimously approved proposals to reset ties with the U.S., demanding an end to drone strikes inside the country while agreeing to the reopening of NATO supply routes to neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan is seeking to redraw a relationship strained by a November border attack by American helicopters that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. In protest, Pakistan closed frontier crossings used to support U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan and suspended military and intelligence cooperation.
Washington needs Pakistan’s help as President Barack Obama withdraws troops from Afghanistan and bids to negotiate peace terms with Taliban guerrillas and other militant groups after a decade-long conflict. The terms approved yesterday are not binding on Pakistan’s government.
“This resolution seeks to satisfy almost every political group in the country,” said Rashid Khan, a professor of international relations at the University of Sargodha in central Pakistan. “The key challenge is how much the U.S. is willing to give up in negotiations with Gilani’s government and whether the U.S. will shift its strategy in which drone attacks are so crucial.”
Drone aircraft missions run by the Central Intelligence Agency are unpopular in Pakistan, where they are reported to kill civilians as well as the militants they target. Pilotless aircraft are used to collect intelligence and kill members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and allied groups in their sanctuaries in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas and are central to the U.S. strategy to curb militancy in the region.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the U.S. military looked forward to engaging in discussions once Pakistan provides a formal proposal.
“This is a key relationship,” Little told reporters today. He said the U.S. wants relations with Pakistan to “settle down” after what “has been a tough year for any number of reasons.”
The U.S. ordered 117 missile strikes by Predator drone aircraft in 2010, a figure that fell to 64 last year, according to the Long War Journal, a website that monitors the conflict. So far in 2012, there have been 11 such attacks, the website said, basing its data on reports in the Pakistani and foreign media. In 2011, the strikes are reported to have killed 405 Islamic militants and 30 civilians, the website figures show.
After three weeks of debate, ruling and opposition lawmakers in Pakistan’s parliament backed guidelines that permit the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Afghan Taliban to truck non-lethal supplies through Pakistan, state-run Pakistan Television reported.
“Today’s resolution will enrich your respect and dignity,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in an address to parliament late yesterday. “I assure you that we will get these enforced in letter and spirit.”
The resolution stated that Pakistan must not allow private security contractors to operate on its soil and that other nations wouldn’t be permitted to establish bases in the country, meeting opposition party demands. The resolution added that “no overt or covert operations” can be carried out in Pakistan by foreign security forces.
The country’s main political parties, including religious groups that oppose Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S., said that Pakistan should seek an unconditional apology from the U.S. for the November airstrike.
While the U.S. military said in a December report that poor coordination by both armies was to blame for the border clash, Pakistan’s army on Jan. 23 underscored its stance that U.S. forces bear the entire responsibility.
Obama said last month as he met Gilani in Seoul that he’s confident the U.S. and Pakistan will be able to build a relationship that both recognizes Pakistani sovereignty and addresses American security concerns. Obama said he seeks to achieve “the kind of balanced approach” that respects Pakistan’s territorial integrity while allowing the U.S. to “battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past.”
The then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, last year accused Pakistan’s main military intelligence agency of directly supporting Islamic militant factions such as the Haqqani network that attack American forces in Afghanistan.
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan’s military and civilian leaderships have had a troubled year, with tensions reaching a high point after the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.