- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Pakistani parliamentary commission on Tuesday demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes inside the country and an unconditional apology for a NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

“The U.S. must review its footprints in Pakistan,” said a report from the commission, which was established to draw up new terms of engagement with the United States.

“No overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be tolerated,” it added.

Drone strikes in the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan have increased under the Obama administration.

U.S. officials say those strikes have been effective in eliminating terrorists.

“There’s plenty of evidence, including documents from the hand of [Osama] bin Laden himself, that shows how devastating these operations have been to al Qaeda and their militant allies,” said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

However, Raza Rabbani, chairman of the parliamentary commission, said the strikes radicalize the local population and fuel anti-American sentiment.

“Drones have become a huge emotional issue for authorities in Pakistan,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

Pakistan kicked U.S. troops out of the Shamsi air base, where unmanned Predator drone operations had been run, after NATO strikes on two Pakistani border posts in November in circumstances still under dispute. NATO says its helicopters acted in self-defense when they first came under fire in Pakistan’s Mohmand area, but Pakistan denies the allegation.

Pakistan also shut a land route used to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The parliamentary commission sought an unconditional apology for the attack and proposed an increase in fees that NATO pays for supplies sent through Pakistan.

U.S. officials have been pressing Pakistan to reopen the supply line.

The U.S.-Pakistan relationship hit bottom following a series of incidents, including the arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis in January 2011 for killing two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore, the death of al Qaeda leader bin Laden in a U.S. commando raid in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad in May, and the NATO attack on the border posts.

“The tragedy at Mohmand really served as an end-line trigger that called for a fundamental reset” in the relationship, Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington last month.

However, the relationship will remain stuck if the Pakistani government stands behind the demand that drone strikes be halted as the basis for any “reset,” said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, who led a review of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan for President Obama.

“The likely next U.S. step will be to turn reluctantly to a more adversarial relationship with Pakistan,” he said.

“We will still seek to engage Pakistan, but we will also seek to contain the worst excesses of the army.”

Pakistan’s parliament suspended until Monday the special joint session to debate the future of the relationship with the United States.

The relationship increasingly will be affected by domestic considerations, Mr. Nawaz said.

“This is going to be the new normal,” he added.

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