General calls for halt to missile strikes
Pakistan's army chief called for a halt to missile attacks on Pakistani territory by pilotless drone aircraft operated by Western forces in Afghanistan.world Updated: Nov 20, 2008 11:21 IST
Pakistan's army chief called for a halt to missile attacks on Pakistani territory by pilotless drone aircraft operated by Western forces in Afghanistan.
General Ashfaq Kayani delivered the message during an address to NATO's military committee in Brussels on Wednesday, just hours after a suspected US missile strike killed five militants, possibly including an Arab al Qaeda operative.
A statement issued by the Pakistani military said Kayani had urged a halt to the use of unmanned "combat aerial vehicles within Pakistani territory".
Pakistan says the attacks violate its sovereignty, make it harder to justify the alliance with the United States in a country rife with anti-American sentiment, and undermine efforts to win public support for the fight against militancy.
Kayani also met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and held individual meetings with Admiral Michael Mullen, US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and a French defence chief.
The restatement of opposition to the air strikes followed hard on the heels of a denial by the foreign ministry that Pakistan had a secret agreement with Washington to publicly protest the attacks, while privately acquiescing.
Missile-armed drones are primarily used by US forces in the region. The United States seldom confirms drone attacks. Pakistan does not have any combat drones.
Wednesday's attack on Bannu district, bordering North Waziristan, was unusual in that it took place deeper in Pakistani territory in an area outside the semi-autonomous tribal lands bordering Afghanistan.
US strikes have focused on North and South Waziristan where at least 20 missile attacks and a cross-border commando raid have killed scores of people since September.
The Arab killed in the attack on a house in the Janikhel tribal area of Bannu district in North West Frontier Province was identified by a Pakistani intelligence official as Abdullah Azam al-Saudi.
The official, based in in neighbouring Dera Ismail Khan district, described al-Saudi as a coordinator between al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan.
The official requested anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the subject, and there was no other corroboration of al-Saudi's death.
Taliban fighters cordoned off the area around the destroyed house, but photographers took pictures of young boys holding pieces of the missile that destroyed it.
Frustrated by fighters from Pakistan fuelling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and fearful of al Qaeda regrouping, US forces have intensified missile attacks by pilotless drones.
Pakistani security forces are battling Islamist fighters in other parts of northwest Pakistan, notably Bajaur, a region at the other end of the tribal belt from Waziristan, and Swat valley.
Though independent casualty estimates are unavailable, the number of people killed in the fighting runs well over a thousand in the last four months alone.
Western forces in Afghanistan have put pressure on the border with Bajaur in an operation dubbed "Lionheart", to help Pakistani forces squeeze the life out of the Islamist fighters' resistance.
Elsewhere along the border, the Pakistani military has been cooperating with NATO counterparts by helping direct artillery fire against militants harrassing NATO camps from positions inside Pakistan.