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Senate condemns drone raid

October 25, 2008


ISLAMABAD, Oct 24: The government and major opposition parties in the Senate on Friday denounced Thursday’s deadly drone raid into the North Waziristan tribal area by US-led forces in Afghanistan, renewing charges of their disregard of Pakistan’s sovereignty, but withheld passing a proposed resolution that called for intercepting such flights.

Leader of the House Raza Rabbani and other speakers noted the pre-dawn missile attack on a madressah run by an Afghan national in which at least 10 people, including foreign militants, were reported killed, came only a day after a secret joint session of the two houses of parliament passed a unanimous resolution calling for an “urgent review” of national security strategy as a key ally in the US-led so-called war on terrorism and safeguarding the nation’s territorial integrity.

“Pakistan will not brook repeated violations of its territory…,” Mr Rabbani said as he condemned the incident “in the strongest terms” on behalf of the government, after the matter was raised by Jamaat-i-Islami’s Prof Khurshid Ahmed on the opening day of an upper house session called mainly to debate President Asif Ali Zardari’s first address to a joint sitting of parliament last month.

Senator Ahmed wanted the house to pass a resolution asking the government to order its forces to intercept the unmanned spy planes that violate Pakistan’s airspace.

But the matter was put off until Monday when Mr Rabbani promised to inform the house about more details of the attack that he said were being collected by the foreign ministry.

The debate on the presidential address, which will be the first parliamentary appraisal of President Zardari only one-and-a-half months after taking office as well as of the six-month-old PPP-led government he controls, was also earlier put off to Monday after Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Farooq moved a formal motion for the start of the discussion.

The US-led forces in Afghanistan have frequently targeted suspected hideous of Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the Pakistani tribal areas by missiles fired from unmanned aircraft in what have sometimes been described by them as joint operations in conjunction with the Pakistani forces deployed in the area or in exercise of their right for self-defence. But still Pakistani spokesmen have been protesting against alleged airspace violations and saying that only Pakistani forces have the right to attack such hideouts within the Pakistani territory.

But the strongest Pakistani protests were evoked by the first known ground assault in the South Waziristan tribal area by helicopter-borne US forces on Sept 3 in which at least 20 people were killed.

Mr Rabbani said the grouse about that violation was raised with US authorities at the highest level and assurances were received from the United States, Nato and International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan that they would respect Pakistan’s sovereignty.

But he regretted that violations had continued despite those assurances.

He described Wednesday’s parliament resolution as the voice of the people of Pakistan which should be respected by democratic countries and said: “The government will not allow this resolution to be withered away.”

The early Thursday morning attack was reportedly made by two drones targeting the Sirajul Uloom seminary in Dandi Darpakhel village in the outskirts of North Waziristan’s headquarters town of Miramshah.

Prof Khurshid said that 11 people were killed in what he called 67th such attack by US forces in the past two years and 32nd after the present government took office as well as “blackmail and threat” in response to Wednesday’s parliament resolution.

MANDOKHEL’S CAUTION: While other senators who took the floor on the issue appeared anxious to take only the US-led forces to task for allegedly disregarding Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty by undertaking such attacks across the border, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s elderly parliamentarian Abdul Rahim Mandokhel struck a note of caution by pointing out the presence of what he called Arab militants in the area who, he said, had imposed terrorism on both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr Mandokhel, who often accuses Arab and other foreign militants of having virtually taken over some of Pakistan’s tribal areas, noted that the resolution passed by the two houses had committed them not to allow Pakistan’s territory to be used “for any kind of attack on other countries” and expel all foreign fighters from there.

But he invited angry remarks from Mohammad Azam Khan Swati of the ruling coalition partner and one-time Taliban ally Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam who saw “a conspiracy” in Mandokhel’s observations and said: “They are killing our people.”

Mr Rabbani sought to cool down tempers by asking members of the house to avoid airing differences between themselves and going into details until Monday, when he said he would present the collected facts before them.

Senator Nisar A. Memon of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q asked the government to call the US ambassador to the foreign ministry to deliver protest note, while his party colleague Tariq Azim Khan said National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza should cancelled her meeting with the US envoy after learning of what he called “attack on the sovereignty of parliament”.