End drone strikes, Pakistan’s Sharif urges

End drone strikes, Pakistan’s Sharif urges

ISLAMABAD - Agence France-Presse
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called yesterday for an end to U.S. drone strikes in the country’s northwest, just after lawmakers endorsed him for an unprecedented third term in office.

Some 13 years after he was deposed in a coup and sent into exile, the 63-year-old was formally chosen by a vote in the National Assembly.

In National Assembly session, Sharif took 244 votes, beating his nearest rival Amin Faheem, of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) who took 42 and Javed Hashmi of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party with 31. He was scheduled to take the oath from President Asif Ali Zardari later in the day.

The country faces a daunting array of problems from crippling power cuts to Taliban militancy, and the new prime minister said citizens should be in no doubt about the challenges that lay ahead. Sharif has advocated peace talks with the Taliban, though the powerful military is said to harbor deep skepticism about the idea of doing deals with the militants.

He publicly criticized the drone strike that killed Taliban deputy Waliur Rehman last week, echoing long-held Pakistani complaints that the U.S. campaign violates national sovereignty.

‘Respect Pakistan’s sovereignty’

Sharif used his first speech as prime minister to reiterate his concerns. “We respect the sovereignty of others and they should also respect our sovereignty and independence. This campaign should come to an end,” he said, calling for a comprehensive strategy to root out extremism.

Missile strikes by unmanned U.S. aircraft have been very unpopular in Pakistan, but Washington views them as a vital tool in the fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants holed up in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas.

Ties with Washington will be a key part of Sharif’s tenure, particularly as NATO withdraws the bulk of its forces from neighboring Afghanistan by the end of next year after more than 12 years of war. Sharif has said Pakistan will cooperate with NATO as it pulls out, but warned that Washington must take Islamabad’s concerns about drone strikes seriously.