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Pakistan panel demands US apology for deadly air strike
by Staff Writers
Islamabad (AFP) March 20, 2012

Pakistani lawmakers on Tuesday demanded an American apology and taxes on NATO convoys in recommendations put to parliament in a key step towards repairing a major crisis in relations with the US.

Parliament will debate the recommendations next week in a probable precursor to reopening NATO supply lines into Afghanistan suspended for nearly four months and to putting the Pakistani-US alliance on a more pragmatic footing.

Islamabad closed its Afghan border to NATO after US air strikes killed 24 soldiers in November, plunging relations with Washington to an all-time low after Pakistan was humiliated by a US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

Pakistan was incensed by the American refusal to apologise for the November 26 killings and besides shutting its border, ordered US personnel to leave a base reportedly used in America's drone war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

But the anger has dissipated and experts expect the alliance to be recrafted along more pragmatic lines involving fewer US drone strikes against Islamist militants in Pakistan and hopes of Pakistan facilitating Afghan peace efforts.

"Pakistan wants to pursue good relations with every country. Pakistan also wants to pursue its own national interest," Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told reporters.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States would not comment in-depth on the recommendations until they come up for debate in parliament.

"We also have always considered that our relationship should be grounded on the basis of mutual respect and common interest," she said.

The military is considered the chief arbiter of foreign policy but many see the parliamentary debate as setting a vital precedent by consulting elected political leaders, if only to protect the military from later recriminations.

"This is the first time that the parliament of Pakistan has been given responsibility to frame foreign policy," said Senator Raza Rabbani, head of the parliamentary committee on national security that drew up the recommendations.

The document calls the November strikes a "blatant violation of Pakistan's sovereignty" and said Islamabad should seek "an unconditional apology from the US for the unprovoked incident".

It said "taxes and other charges must be levied on all goods importing in or transiting through Pakistan" -- which experts have estimated could amount to $1 million a day -- and, in a sub clause, an end to American drone strikes.

Drone strikes are resented in Pakistan as violations of sovereignty, despite the fact that they have at times worked in Islamabad's favour, such as killing Pakistani Taliban founder Baitullah Mehsud in August 2009.

In a sign that Pakistanis are keen to put the relationship onto a clearer footing, the recommendations rule out verbal agreements with the United States and said any such agreement "should be reduced to writing immediately".

It was a veiled reference to former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who signed Pakistan up as an ally to the war on terror, and to revelations in leaked American cables that the government had quietly approved drone strikes.

Parliament will start to debate the recommendations on March 26, after the leader of the opposition, Chaudhry Nisar, demanded time to assess the document.

"This parliament has passed two resolutions against the drone strikes but no one listened to it. What is the guarantee that there will be no back-tracking on this resolution?" Nisar said.

The recommendations backed peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan saying there was "no military solution" to the Afghan conflict.

The United States has called on Pakistan to play a constructive role in nascent peace efforts in Afghanistan, where its support is considered vital given its history of relations with Taliban insurgents.

Pakistan has long accused the United States of taking its support in the war for granted and the parliamentary panel called on the international community to recognise the country's "colossal human and economic losses".

It said Pakistan was committed to fighting terror and indicated that foreign boots on Pakistani soil were a red line -- despite the bin Laden raid and occasions in which US forces have crossed the border from Afghanistan.

The United States sent its condolences over the November air strikes, but stopped short of an apology. NATO expressed regret over what it called a "tragic unintended incident".

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US supports 'mutual respect' with Pakistan
Washington (AFP) March 20, 2012 - The United States said Tuesday it supported calls by Pakistan for mutual respect but held off a formal response to a parliamentary demand for an apology over a deadly air raid.

Pakistani lawmakers earlier Tuesday called for taxes on NATO convoys and demanded an apology for the November raid near the border that killed 24 soldiers, plunging relations between the war partners to a new low.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the United States would not comment in-depth on the long-awaited Pakistani report on US relations until it comes up for debate in parliament next week.

But she said: "We also have always considered that our relationship should be grounded on the basis of mutual respect and common interest."

"We believe that we have a lot to do together, not only in combating terrorism and creating more security, but in strengthening and promoting economic prosperity, democratic development inside Pakistan and in strengthening Pakistan as a good neighbor throughout the region," she said.

The United States sent its condolences over the November air strikes, but stopped short of an apology. NATO expressed regret over what it called a "tragic unintended incident."

Pakistan closed its Afghan border after the air strikes, the latest deterioration in a relationship that came under new scrutiny after US forces found and killed Osama bin Laden living inside Pakistan in May.


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