ISLAMABAD, Nov 20: Most fingers were pointed at the United States in the National Assembly on Thursday for what Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called an `intolerable’ drone attack on a suspected militant hideout in the NWFP, but none at Al Qaeda or Taliban against whom Pakistan is the West’s ally in the so-called war against terrorism.
The prime minister’s strong remarks about the frequent rocket attacks by unmanned spy planes of US-led forces in Afghanistan came shortly before the foreign ministry handed a protest to the US ambassador against Wednesday’s deadly missile strike in a remote border village in Bannu district of the North West Frontier Province.
“Such attacks are intolerable, and we protest against it,” Mr Gilani said in response to angry voices raised by opposition leader Nisar Ali Khan and two other members from both sides of the house against the pre-dawn raid that, according to news reports from the area, killed three foreign and one local militants at a residential compound in Janikhel village bordering the insurgency-hit North Waziristan agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
But the prime minister, who took the floor after Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Raza Rabbani had spoken twice to assure the house of the government’s commitment to protect the country’s sovereignty and that it would not disappoint the nation, counselled patience until an expected policy change when a new US administration takes office in January.
But in what has become a usual practice in parliament while discussing such attacks, neither Mr Gilani nor any other speaker from the treasury or opposition benches voiced concern about the actions of foreign and local militants fighting security forces in Fata and adjacent parts of the NWFP besides carrying out devastating suicide attacks in the rest of the country.
It was much later in the day that Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) parliamentary leader Haider Abbas Rizvi, while speaking in the debate on President Asif Ali Zardari’s Sept 20 address to a joint sitting of parliament, warned the house that not only Fata, “whole of Pakistan is in the grip of terrorism” which, he said, was spreading from north to south.
Thursday’s anti-US outburst over the first drone attack outside Fata in a settled district — but bordering Fata — came only two days after a US general commanding American and Nato forces in Afghanistan had praised what he called a growing coordination with Pakistani forces to squeeze Taliban and Al Qaeda militants from both sides of the Afghan border.
Prime Minister Gilani reiterated his government’s previous rejection of recent US media reports that claimed the existence of a tacit understanding between Washington and Islamabad to allow drone attacks and said the government had no record if former president Pervez Musharraf had made such an understanding.
Referring to his recent contacts with some foreign leaders like the Italian and Turkish prime ministers, Mr Gilani said they all appreciated Pakistan’s position that “American policy should change” and that cross-border attacks were “increasing our problems”.
But he said a transition period in the United States after the Nov 3 elections could be responsible for the present situation and added: “I am sure that after (president-elect) Senator Barack Obama is installed (in office), such attacks will stop.”
In a reference to criticism of army operations in Fata and Swat district by Maulana Ataur Rehman of the government ally Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, the prime minister praised the Pakistan army as “highly professional, extremely efficient and pro-democracy” and said there could be no doubt about its support for the government’s policy in this respect.
Opposition leader Nisar Khan said repeated drone attack were making a fun of the joint resolution passed by a joint session of parliament last month that called for safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and asked the government to warn the United States that it would approach the United Nations if such violations were not stopped.
“Why have we become so helpless?” he asked and said Pakistan, as a self-respecting nuclear power, must follow an honourable foreign policy.
The issue was first raised by a member from Fata, Zafar Baig Bhittani, who announced a protest walkout before both Mr Rabbani and Information and Broadcasting Minister Sherry Rehman persuaded him against leaving the chamber.
Mr Rizvi of the MQM, in a well-prepared speech, by and large backed President Zardari’s vision about issues such as greater provincial autonomy, fighting terrorism and extremism, economic development, friendship with neighbouring countries, and rights of women, and said it was time to act in light of ground realities rather than pursue `popular politics’.
But the main target of his oratory was what he called a `terrorist network’ born out of the Afghan war in the 1980s that he said still existed and had now cast `shadows of Talibanisation’ even over the national financial capital of Karachi.
He called for strongly dealing with terrorism, complete merger of tribal areas with settled areas in consultation with the local population, repeal of the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulations, arranging micro-financing for agriculture and small traders, transferring the impact of a fall in world commodity prices to people, a `look East’ trend in foreign policy and more safeguards for women.