South Asia

Pakistan criticises 'unjustified' US drone strikes

Cyclist passes burning Nato supply tanker
Attacks on Nato convoys have risen dramatically since a key crossing was shut

Pakistan has said that US drone strikes in the north-west have "neither justification nor understanding".

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said such attacks were counter-productive and a violation of his country's sovereignty.

More than 150 people, militants and civilians, have died in drone strikes over the last month.

Correspondents say that the attacks have fuelled anti-American sentiment at a time when tensions are already high.

On Thursday, there was a new US drone attack in Mir Ali, Khaisora district, North Waziristan, in which four people were killed, including two foreigners.

Pakistan shut the key Torkham border-crossing last week because of a Nato air-strike which killed at least two soldiers.

The US has now apologised for the attack, while insisting that its war effort in Afghanistan has not been impeded by the move.

An estimated 6,500 oil tankers and other supply vehicles are still waiting for the crossing to reopen. In the latest attacks blamed on militants, at least 40 tankers carrying fuel for Nato were destroyed on Wednesday.

'Hearts and minds'

"We believe that [drone strikes] are counter-productive and also a violation of our sovereignty," foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said.

"We hope that the US will revisit its policy."

Mr Basit said that the drone war was "not serving the larger strategic interests, especially in the context of our efforts to win hearts and minds, which is part and parcel of our strategy against militants and terrorists".

Local officials say that at least five suspected militants were killed in a drone strike on Wednesday in north-west Pakistan.

Pakistan has on several occasions called for an end to drone strikes.

However correspondents say that there is a tacit acceptance in Islamabad that such attacks are a useful way of killing militants in the north-west of the country where the army is unable or unwilling to go.

While Nato says it expects the border dispute with Pakistan to be resolved soon, relations with Islamabad have been further strained by a White House report that has questioned Pakistan's willingness to curb militants.

Tanker attacks

Brig-Gen Josef Blotz, a spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), told the Reuters news agency that operations were "not impeded" by the border closure because only a third of its fuel supplies came via Pakistan.

But the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Karachi says this figure is incorrect, and that in fact 80% of Nato's fuel supplies for Afghanistan go through Pakistan.

Our correspondent says that the last week in particular has been a bad week for Nato and that the Taliban tanker attacks are now seriously endangering the coalition's operations.

US Predator drone (file photo)
Islamabad has been accused of tacitly condoning drone strikes

Pakistan's foreign ministry said the security situation was being reviewed and a decision to reopen the Torkham crossing would be made in due course.

The Chaman crossing in Balochistan remains open, but this is not as convenient for supplies bound for Kabul.

The American apology to the dead and injured in the air strike came in a statement from US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson who paid tribute to Pakistan's "brave security forces".

She pledged the United States would "coordinate with the government of Pakistan to prevent such tragic accidents from taking place in the future".

Nato's Gen David Petraeus also apologised and vowed to work to stop similar incidents happening in the future.

However, a White House report to the US Congress questioned Pakistan's willingness to tackle militants operating in the tribal areas of North Waziristan, close to the Afghan border.

The report said Pakistan's military stayed close to the main roads, avoiding "military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan".

This was "as much a political choice" as a question of military ability, the report said.

So far there has been no official reaction in Pakistan to the report.

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