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Obama should apologise over NATO attack: Bilawal Bhutto

By Rezaul H Laskar
Last updated on: May 22, 2012 16:28 IST
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United States President Barack Obama should "show some courage" and apologise to Pakistan for a cross-border air strike by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year, the ruling Pakistan People's Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said.

"I urge President Obama to show some courage. I understand he is running for re-election but if he is the same man who inspired the world with his message of hope and change, the future of the NATO mission in Afghanistan should be more important than poll numbers. Pakistan deserves an apology," Bilawal said.

The 23-year-old nominal chief of the PPP also demanded that the US end drone strikes within Pakistani territory. He made the remarks while addressing a gathering of party workers and supporters in New York on Monday night.

Bilawal said he was visiting America at "what may be the most critical point in the 65-year relationship between Pakistan and the US."

Islamabad's ties with Washington plunged to a new low after the NATO air strike on two border posts killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year.

The two sides have been unable to put their relations on an even keel due to Pakistan's insistence on an apology and a demand to end US drone strikes.

Obama refused to hold a formal one-to-one meeting with Bilawal's father, President Asif Ali Zardari, on the  margins of a NATO Summit in Chicago because of Pakistan's refusal to reopen supply routes to Afghanistan that were closed after last year's air strike.

During his speech, Bilawal referred to several incidents that have bedevilled Pakistan-US relations since last year, including the unilateral American military raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and the gunning down of two men by Central Intelligence Agency contractor Raymond Davis in Lahore.

"For one year, our countries have weathered a series of crises that have tested our partnership. The unilateral action in Abbottabad made many in Pakistan question whether the US actually considered Pakistan a military ally in our common war on terrorism and extremism," he said.

"The Raymond Davis fiasco made many in our country question the role and authority of CIA activities in Pakistan. The continuing unilateral US drone attacks on Pakistani soil was a constant irritant to Pakistani public opinion," he added.

The drone strikes are a "clear violation" of Pakistan's sovereignty and cause a "toll of collateral damage to innocent victims," Bilawal said.

He said, "These illegal strikes, that violate international law and even the US's War Powers Act, must end."

The NATO attack that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead "has not resulted in an apology to the families or to our nation," he said.

"I would like the American public to consider what their reaction would have been if American troops had been killed in such an attack on their border with Mexico," he added.

Bilawal contended it was "ludicrous to keep demanding Pakistan do more under these circumstances."

Over 4,000 Pakistani troops have died in the war on terror and this was more than all NATO forces combined. "It is time for the US to do more," he said.

"This is truly a moment of tension and re-examination. We are at a crossroads. The future of the bilateral relationship could well determine the success of moderation against extremism in South and Central Asia," Bilawal claimed.

Bilawal, the son of slain former Premier Benazir Bhutto, also attended a ceremony where a documentary on his mother received the Peabody Award.

He said his mother had "lived and died fighting for democracy, for human rights, for women's rights, for moderation against extremism, for modernity against ignorance, for a future better than any of the pasts we have ever known."

He said he would "do everything in my power to bring Pakistan and the US back on track so that we can jointly achieve my mother's dream."

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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