Give us the drones, Zardari demands of US

April 8th, 2009 - 11:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama London, April 8 (IANS) Stung by the repeated Predator attacks in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, President Asif Ali Zardari has urged the US to give it the drones to enable the security forces “take out high-value targets”.
In an interview to The Independent published Wednesday, Zardari said Pakistan had made it clear it was willing to “take out high-value targets on our own, and we welcome the technology and intelligence assistance that will give us the ability to succeed”.

“I cannot condone violations of our sovereignty even when they are done by allies and friends,” he maintained, adding: “We would much prefer that the US share its intelligence and give us the drones and missiles that will allow us to take care of this problem on our own.”

Zardari’s comments came as two top US officials concluded a visit to Pakistan to take forward President Barack Obama’s new Af-Pak strategy in the war against terror.

During talks with Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Pakistani leaders demanded halt to the drone attacks. But the two sides only agreed to disagree. The issue will now be discussed at the trilateral Pakistan-Afghanistan-US talks in Washington next month.

The US-NATO forces in Afghanistan say they are targeting specific hideouts of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas but collateral damage has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians, including women and children.

This has raised temperatures against Pakistani involvement in the US-led war against terror, with the Pakistaini Taliban of Baitullah Mehsud stepping its attacks in the country and vowing to stage “at least two every week” till the strikes are halted.

Zardari pointed out that Obama had “once said that he would act if we weren’t willing and able. We certainly are willing and with international support we will become even more able.”

Responding to a question on the political scenario in Pakistan, Zardari conceded that more than a year after the general elections that saw his Pakistan Peoples Party forming the federal coalition, many in the country were growing frustrated with a seeming lack of progress.

“After a decade of dictatorship the people had enormous expectations of rapid improvement in their lives. That is still very much our priority but the enormity of the economic crisis both within Pakistan and internationally, compounded by the war that we fight within and along our borders, has made progress much slower than we hoped,” the president contended.

He also sought to downplay differences with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif that was once part of the ruling coalition but walked out after Zardari reneged on the promises made in the governance agenda that had been agreed to before the elections.

“The ups and downs of democracy should not be interpreted as a lack of stability … There is the usual tug of power politics and the tendency of some observers to paint Doomsday scenarios.”But I think the people appreciate that our democratic government is functioning,” the president maintained.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has extended an olive branch to the PML-N to rejoin the government but Nawaz Sharif has opted to stay out for the moment.

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