ISLAMABAD, Nov 3: The political and military leadership warned the United States on Monday against air strikes inside Pakistan and stressed that territorial integrity of the country must be respected.
President Asif Ali Zardari told the new Chief of US Central Command, General David Howell Petraeus, and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who had called on him, that drone attacks on Pakistani territory should be stopped because they were counter-productive. He said that the focus should be on enhanced coordination and intelligence-sharing.
“Continuing drone attacks on our territory, which result in loss of precious lives and property, are counter-productive and difficult to explain by a democratically elected government. It is creating a credibility gap,” he said.
The president said that the US leadership had pledged to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. “In the wake of drone attacks on our side of the border the government is under pressure to react more aggressively.”
Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Secretary Foreign Affairs Salman Bashir, US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson and senior civil and military officials from the two sides were present in the meeting.
The American officials also called on Prime Minster Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and discussed matters relating to the war on terror, bilateral relations and professional issues.
Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar earlier told Gen Petraeus and Mr Boucher that that the missile strikes from drones “create outrage and uproar among the people”. He urged the US to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Both sides stressed the need for enhanced cooperation to eliminate terrorism. They discussed the security situation, with special focus on war on terror.
The minister told the US delegation that Pakistan was keen to promote peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan because a politically and economically stable and prosperous neighbour was in its interest and in the interest of the entire region.
He briefed Gen Petraeus on the ongoing military operation in tribal areas. He stressed that the international community needed to assist Pakistan in creating employment opportunities so as to mitigate the financial sufferings of the people of the area. He also sought assistance of the international community and donor agencies in rehabilitating the displaced people of Bajaur Agency.
The American delegation was also informed about the security needs of Pakistan to curb terrorism.
General Petraeus also held wide-ranging discussions with Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Tariq Majid on matters of mutual interest, including the military cooperation and the current security environment in the region.
Gen Majid said Pakistan was looking forward to working with him to deal with the challenges of militancy. He emphasised that there was a need for developing long-term relationship based on mutual trust, transparency and understanding of complexity of the region keeping in view the local perspective.
He stressed that the two countries should evolve a consensus strategy to deal with extremism.The Centcom chief also visited the General Headquarters and called on Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. They discussed matters of professional interest and the security situation along the Afghan border.
Later, politicians from ruling as well as opposition parties had a dinner meeting with Gen Petraeus and Mr Boucher.
Sources told Dawn that they were unanimous in conveying to the US officials that the drone attacks were unacceptable and must be halted immediately.
Those who attended the dinner included Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik, PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Khwaja Asif (PML-N), Haider Abbas Rizvi (MQM), Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai and MNA from Fata Munir Orakzai.