What does Pakistan want from US? An apology, more money, no drones

Pakistan's lawmakers passed a resolution trying to reframe the country's relationship with the US. Whether it gets implemented is another matter.

Anjum Naveed/AP
Pakistani lawmakers and media persons gather at main entrance of Parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday. A parliamentary commission demanded an end to American drone attacks inside Pakistan and an apology for deadly US airstrikes in November, as part of proposed new terms in the country's troubled relations with the United States.

Pakistani lawmakers Tuesday demanded an end to US drone strikes and an unconditional apology for a NATO attack that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead last November.

The demands were made by a parliamentary commission tasked with framing a debate on the country’s future relationship with the US, and reflects deep public resentment at the loss of what most here see as innocent lives.

“The US must review its footprints in Pakistan,” said Raza Rabbani, chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security. “This means the cessation of drone strikes inside Pakistan.”

But the rhetoric, which could be politically helpful for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, is unlikely to be matched by a major shift in foreign policy because that is controlled by the country's security establishment, say opposition lawmakers and analysts. 

“Many resolutions have been passed in previous joint sittings of parliament but a question mark remains on their implementation,” said Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan, a senior leader in the opposition Pakistan Muslim League–N party, possibly referring to an October 2008 parliamentary resolution that called for an end to drone attacks.

“Even if approved … the recommendations in this resolution already exist in earlier resolutions. The government should be answerable for the implementation of these resolutions,” he added, referring to previous parliamentary resolution against drone attacks.

Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders have a history of tacitly endorsed the Predator drone attacks while publicly denouncing them, since they were first used in 2004. Under the Bush administration some 52 drone strikes were carried out, while more than 260 have been carried out under the Obama administration.  President Obama publically acknowledged the use of drone attacks in an online video chat with Google Plus users in January.

Though a number of high-profile Taliban and Al Qaeda figures have been killed by drones, including former Pakistan leader Baitullah Mehsud and, last month, senior Al Qaeda leader Badar Mansoor, residents of the Tribal Areas say the attacks kill many innocent victims and radicalize the population further.

“This is the reason why militants are multiplying every day – because of the drone attacks,” says Ayesha Gulalai Wazir, a political activist from South Waziristan who has been lobbying parliament and helping to organize anti-drone protests in Islamabad.

“By killing one person you turn the whole extended family and the tribe against you,” she says, referring to the Pashtun honor-code which demands revenge.

In addition to the demands for an apology over the NATO attack and an end to drone strikes, the parliamentary committee recommended that the resumption of the NATO supply line be accompanied by a revision of terms and conditions, including taxation of those supplies.

Gen. James Mattis, commander of US Central Command, said earlier this month he expected to visit Pakistan in mid-to-late March to talk with leaders about reopening the supply routes which have been suspended since November. That trip would be seen as a sign of warming ties between the two countries.

The debate is set to resume on Monday, giving the political opposition time to respond. Analysts say the ruling PPP is eager to regain some credibility with the voting public ahead of a general election that could occur later this year.

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