WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday urged the United States to end drone attacks as Amnesty International warned that civilian-killing strikes could constitute war crimes.
Sharif, who will meet President Barack Obama today (Wednesday), called for warmer ties with the United States and offered Pakistan’s assistance in Afghanistan as US forces prepare to withdraw next year.
But Sharif said that the unmanned strikes represented a “major irritant” in relations.
“I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks,” he told a distinguished gathering at the the US Institute of Peace here.
Sharif said Pakistan’s political parties believed that drones violated the country’s territorial integrity as well as its own efforts to fight extremism.
The Obama adminstration has reduced the pace of drone strikes in Pakistan in light of the uproar.
But Amnesty International documented cases in which it said that civilians were clearly killed, including an October 2012 strike that blew to pieces a 68-year-old grandmother as she was picking vegetables.
Sharif spoke only briefly about drones in his main public address in Washington and vowed cooperation on Afghanistan — seen as the main topic which Obama will want to address today.
The Pakistani leader said that his country supported a “peaceful, stable and unified” Afghanistan.
Sharif said he has assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai “that we wish neither to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, nor do we have any favorites.”
Sharif also told the US audience that Pakistan wanted to resolve all problems peacefully with India. The nuclear-armed powers have fought three full-fledged wars since partition in 1947.
“I wish to assure this august audience that Pakistan desires to live in peace with its neighbour. We would not be found wanting in walking the extra mile,” he said.
Replying to a question, Sharif debunked an assertion by his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh about Pakistan being an ‘epicentre of terrorism’, saying his country was victim of the menace.
“Pakistan is neither a source of, nor the epicentre of terrorism, as is sometimes alleged,” he sadi. “In fact, Pakistan itself has been a major victim of this scourge, for over a decade,” the PM said without actually naming the Indian leader who made the allegation in his speech to the UN General Assembly in September.
“My government is firmly committed to ending cycle of violence in Pakistan,” he said. “We want to transform our relations with friends around the world, as well as our immediate neighbours,” he said.
Besides asking US to “do more” to help Pakistan and India to “resolve their disputes, including Kashmir”, Sharif also sought from Washington what he called “a non-discriminatory approach in fields like civil nuclear cooperation”. Without referring to the landmark India-US nuclear deal, he said “we would hope for ‘a non-discriminatory approach in fields like civil nuclear cooperation” as he asked US to help in developing Pakistan economy, not only through aid but by promoting trade. Contrary to the popular perception, Pakistan-US relations have stood the test of time, said Sharif but added the relations should be based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
“It is a flashpoint not only in the region, but the whole world,” he said of Kashmir.
Pakistan’s sacrifices in the struggle against terrorism and extremism are well known, the prime minister said. “We have faced hundreds of suicide attacks in the past decade, losing over 7,000 of our brave soldiers, security personnel and policemen, while our civilian casualties exceed 40,000. Our sacrifices are immeasurable, both in terms of the loss of human lives and the damage caused to our infrastructure.
“My government is firmly resolved to bringing this cycle of bloodshed and violence to an end, but it cannot be done over-night, nor can it be done by unleashing senseless force against our citizens, without first making every effort to bring the misguided and confused elements of society, back to the mainstream. We also have to ensure that the political parties and civic society are on the same page, so as to create the enabling environment necessary to tackle this menace.”
Earlier addressing the Pakistani community in Washington, Prime Minister Sharif said that the government would shortly announce a package of incentives to facilitate expatriate Pakistanis investment in various sectors of the economy.
He said his government is giving top priority to overcome the energy crisis to stabilise the national economy.
He said that his government would strive for resolution of the energy crisis within its tenure, adding the government will provide relief in power tariff to the people after enhancing its production to a certain level.
He told the gathering that the government would go for construction of two large dams and power projects including Diamer Bhasha and Dasu, which will have the capacity to produce 15000 to 16000 MW of power.
The Prime Minister told the gathering that during his meeting with American top officials, he strongly advocated the case for more trade with the United States, instead of reliance on aid.
He said when American officials at the dinner hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry asked him what could the US do for Pakistan, he candidly told them that Pakistan wanted the US to materialise greater trade access for Pakistani products.
“The United States is Pakistan’s largest trading partner —- we want greater trade and want to remove roadblocks in the way of expansion of trade”, he added.
The Prime Minister said all out efforts are being made to establish peace in the country through dialogue with Taliban.
“We are looking forward to positive answer from Taliban,” he said, referring to government offer of peace talks with the militants.
On the question of dual nationality, the Prime Minister believed that all Pakistanis inside the country and those living in foreign lands are patriotic Pakistanis, irrespective of holding different nationalities.
“There should not be discriminatory treatment as we shall consider an amendment to remove this discrimination”, he added.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and General Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the strategic policy, during a meeting here on Monday.
General Dempsey said Pakistan’s cooperation with regard to the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan is highly significant.
In a separate meeting, PM Sharif and US National Security Adviser Susan Rice discussed the issues relating the bilateral security on the table. They also exchanged views on Pakistan’s role for the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.