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Nawaz Sharif urges US to end drone attacks

23 October, 2013

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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 on 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 -- which penetrate extremist havens deep in Pakistan's most lawless areas -- represented a "major irritant" in relations.

"I would therefore stress the need for an end to drone attacks," Sharif said at the US Institute of Peace.

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 administration has reduced the pace of drone strikes in Pakistan in light of the uproar, but US officials argue that such attacks are a useful tool against extremists and are precise enough to avoid most civilian casualties.

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.

The human rights group said that Pakistani authorities, despite their public fuming at drone strikes, may quietly cooperate.

"We are concerned that the Pakistani authorities, or aspects of the institutions, may also be assisting the US to carry out drone attacks that may constitute human rights violations," researcher Mustafa Qadri told a news conference in Washington.

Ready to go 'extra mile' with India: PM Nawaz

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed Tuesday to go the "extra mile" to make peace with India, saying the historic rivals can resolve all issues including Kashmir through dialogue.

Nawaz, on a visit to Washington where he will see President Barack Obama on Wednesday, regretted that periodic incidents such as violence on the disputed border in Kashmir had set back peace attempts. "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 at the US Institute of Peace. "If we sit down together, if we seriously address these issues, I don't think we will face any problem," he said.

"Kashmir, of course, is a very difficult issue and very difficult to resolve but I think, by sitting and talking, we will be able to find some way of resolving that, too," he said. "Because that is a flashpoint not only in the region, but the whole world," he said of Kashmir. Nawaz, who swept back to power in May, noted that he was involved in a major peace initiative with India in 1999 when his then counterpart Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Pakistan.

The effort collapsed within months as Pakistan-backed forces infiltrated the Indian zone of Kashmir, which has been the source of two full-fledged wars between the nuclear powers. Nawaz blamed the 1999 Kargil conflict on army chief Pervez Musharraf, who later ousted him from power, and repeated his past criticism of the focus on military spending. "Had our countries not wasted their precious resources in a never-ending arms race, we would not only have avoided the futile conflicts, but also emerged as stable and prosperous nations," he said.

"Because that is a flashpoint not only in the region, but the whole world," Nawaz said of Kashmir. He regretted periodic setbacks to reconciliation. He met last month with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who demanded an end to an uptick of violence on the disputed Kashmir border as well as action against Pakistan-based militants linked to the 2008 siege of Mumbai. Nawaz said that he wanted to start from the basis set in 1999 when he welcomed India's then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Pakistan.

Separately, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that his government would strive for resolution of the energy crisis within its tenure and invited expatriate Pakistanis to invest in the area that promises attractive returns. In an hour-long address to the Pakistani-American community, the prime minister, who is on a four-day official visit to Washington, said 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 two-and-a-half-hour dinner hosted by Secretary Kerry on Sunday at the State Department was attended by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, CIA Chief and other senior officials.

End.

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