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Stop cross-border strikes, Pak to US

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad | November 03, 2008 22:22 IST

Pakistan on Monday told the United States that missile strikes in its tribal areas by drones operated by American troops in Afghanistan were 'unacceptable' and must be stopped immediately as they could generate anti-America sentiments in the country.

The issue of missile strikes, which have strained ties between the two countries, was taken up by Pakistan's military and political leadership with visiting Gen David H Petraeus, the top US army commander overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Petraeus arrived in Pakistan on Sunday as part of his first visit abroad after being appointed head of the US Central Command. He is accompanied by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher.

During a meeting with the US officials, President Asif Ali Zardari said the missile strikes in the country's tribal belt were unacceptable and counter-productive and must be stopped immediately.

In a separate meeting, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said frequent drone attacks could 'generate anti-America sentiments as well as create outrage and uproar among the people'.

"Continuing drone attacks on our territory, which result in the loss of precious lives and property, are counter-productive and difficult to explain by a democratically-elected government. It is creating a credibility gap," Zardari said.

The focus, he said, should be on enhanced coordination and intelligence-sharing.

The President said the US leadership has affirmed its 'respect for Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity'. In the wake of drone attacks on the Pakistani side of the border, the government 'was under pressure to react more aggressively', he said.

Pakistan Army [Images] chief Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani adopted a similar stand in a separate meeting at the army's General Headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, telling Petraeus and Boucher that the missile strikes are counter-productive for the war on terror.

He sought US help to stop movement of the militants from Afghanistan to Pakistan and briefed the US officials on anti-militancy operations, especially in Bajaur tribal region.

The US officials also met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [Images], Defence Minister Mukhtar and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Tariq Majid.

Mukhtar asked the US to respect Pakistan's 'sovereignty and territorial integrity because the frequent drone attacks could generate anti-America sentiments as well as create outrage and uproar among the people', said a statement from the defence ministry.

He briefed Petraeus about anti-terror efforts and ongoing military operations against terrorists and extremist elements in the tribal areas. He said the international community needs to help Pakistan create jobs in the tribal areas to mitigate the financial suffering of people.

Both sides discussed matters of mutual interest and stressed the need for enhanced cooperation to eliminate terrorism. They discussed the security situation in the region with special focus on the war on terror and the situation along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the statement said.

Mukhtar informed the US delegation that 'Pakistan is keen to promote peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan because a politically stable and prosperous Afghanistan was not only in the interest of Pakistan but of the whole region'.

He also sought assistance from the world community and donor agencies to help people displaced by fighting in the troubled Bajaur Agency.

Over 200,000 people have been displaced since the security forces launched an operation against the local Taliban [Images] in Bajaur in August.

A series of missile strikes in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt by US drones operating from Afghanistan has strained ties between the two countries. Pakistan's parliament has condemned the attacks and urged the US to stop them immediately.

Observers said Petraeus's visit reflected Pakistan's crucial role in the fight against terrorism. Petraeus took over his new position after serving as the top US commander in Iraq for 20 months.

US commanders in Afghanistan believe the answer to reducing violence in the country lies in tackling militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, described by Western nations as a safe have for Taliban and Al Qaeda [Images] elements.

© Copyright 2008 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.


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