UNITED NATIONS — Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday slammed critics who say his country has not done enough in the fight against terrorists and blamed U.S. drone attacks against suspected terrorists for complicating efforts to win hearts and minds.
“To those who say we have not done enough, I say in all humility: Please do not insult the memory of our dead, and the pain of our living,” Mr. Zardari told the U.N. General Assembly. “No country and no people have suffered more in the epic struggle against terrorism, than Pakistan.”
The Obama administration has pressed Pakistan, with limited success, to take a tougher stand against terrorists who operate from safe havens in the tribal border region near Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, the State Department added al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani Network to its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Pakistan’s army has been reluctant to go after these terrorists who operate from the border province of North Waziristan.
“Do not ask of my people what no one has ever asked of any other peoples. Do not demonize the innocent women, and children of Pakistan. And please, stop this refrain to do more,” Mr. Zardari said. “The simplest question of all is: How much more suffering can Pakistan endure?”
Mr. Zardari said Pakistanis have paid a high price in the war on terrorists. More than 7,000 soldiers and policemen and over 37,000 civilians, including Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab, have been killed in this war, he added.
Mr. Zardari’s own family has paid a price, a point which he made in his address. His late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in a terrorist attack in Pakistan on Dec. 27, 2007. Bhutto’s portrait sat atop the lectern during Mr. Zardari’s address.
The Pakistani leader slammed the controversial U.S. strategy of strikes by unmanned Predator drones on terrorist suspects. “Drone strikes and civilian casualties on our territory add to the complexity of our battle for hearts and minds through this epic struggle,” he said.
The Pakistani leader opened his remarks with condemnation of an anti-Islam film, produced in the U.S., that has roiled the Muslim world and led to the deaths of dozens of people. Four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have been killed in the violence.
“I want to express the strongest condemnation for the acts of incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims of the world and our beloved prophet, Muhammad,” Mr. Zardari said.
Mr. Zardari did not directly condemn the violence, which has erupted in deadly protests across Pakistan.
“Although we can never condone violence, the international community must not become silent observers and should criminalize such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression,” he said.
Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said “responsible leaders” must condemn the violence.
Pakistan’s government on declared Friday a national holiday — “Love for the Prophet Day” — and encouraged peaceful protests against the film that was made in the U.S. and insults Islam’s prophet Muhammad.
Pakistan’s Railway Minister, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, has offered a $100,000 bounty on the head of the producer of the controversial film.