Gilani link drone strike to presence of foreign fighters

Islamabad: Sending out mixed signals, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani today linked the issue of asking the US to end drone strikes in Pakistan`s tribal belt to the presence of foreign fighters on the country`s soil and said these matters would be discussed with the Americans.

His moderate remarks came after the country`s Foreign Office blasted yesterday`s drone attack, the first since a joint session of the two houses of Pakistan`s parliament adopted a resolution calling for an immediate halt to the missile strikes. Gilani said the joint session had framed several recommendations, including one on halting drone attacks, for talks with the US aimed at resetting the relationship between the two countries.

"Parliament said these are our recommendations and in light of these recommendations, you hold talks with the US. We have not yet held talks, we have just held preliminary discussions," the premier told reporters on the sidelines of an official function. But there is one other thing in the recommendations that you must keep in mind that foreign fighters should be expelled from Pakistani soil. Our soil should not be used against any other country as well," he said in response to a question about the US continuing drone attacks despite public opposition in Pakistan.

"When we frame a strategy, we will discuss all these issues," he said. Gilani further said he could comment on the issue of US drone strikes "when there is a final decision". A drone targeted a compound in Miranshah, the main town of the Waziristan tribal region, killing four militants on Sunday. Reports from Miranshah said over 20 militants, including foreign fighters, were living in the compound. Gilani`s remarks highlighted the sensitive issues linked to discussions between Pakistan and the US on drone strikes.

Drone strikes are unpopular in Pakistan due to reports of civilian casualties in the attacks. However, a number of senior militant commanders, including Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud and several al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed in the attacks. Pakistan`s Foreign Office condemned yesterday`s drone strike in North Waziristan Agency, saying it was "in total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations".

Pakistan has "consistently maintained that drone attacks are violative of its territorial integrity and sovereignty" and the matter would be taken up "through diplomatic channels both in Islamabad and Washington", Foreign office spokesman Moazzam Khan said.