US, not to revisit drone attacks policy: Report

Islamabad: The US has apparently refused to revisit its policy on drone strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan`s lawless tribal areas as recommended by a Pakistani Parliamentary committee.

The stand of the US on drone strikes was conveyed by US Ambassador Cameron Munter during a meeting with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar yesterday, `The Express Tribune` reported today, quoting its sources.

The envoy met Khar to discuss the revised terms of engagement with the US tabled in Parliament earlier this week.

The Parliamentary Committee on National Security presented 40 recommendations to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate for revamping ties with the US.

The recommendations include the imposition of a tax on all US and NATO supplies passing through Pakistan on their way to Afghanistan, an unconditional US apology for a NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November and a halt to drone attacks.

The US envoy told Khar that Washington is willing to tender a formal apology for the NATO air strike but ruled out the possibility of revisiting the policy of relying on unmanned aerial vehicles to pursue al-Qeada and Taliban in the tribal belt, the report said.

A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry last night quoted Munter as saying that the US fully respects Pakistan`s Parliamentary process and is looking forward to putting relations back on track on the basis of mutual respect.

The Obama administration considers the CIA-operated drone campaign as a vital tool to dismantle the ability of al-Qaeda and its affiliates to target US interests. However, the policy has stoked widespread anti-American sentiments in Pakistan and the civilian leadership sees it as counter-productive to its anti-terror efforts.

Observers have contended that Islamabad might have some sort of secret understanding with Washington on the use of drones.

An overturn of the drone policy has been ruled out by US lawmakers like Senator Joe Lieberman, who said "drone strikes are critically important to America`s national security. So obviously, I do not believe they should stop."

US Senate Intelligence Committee chairperson Dianne Feinstein believes the drone campaign is needed due to an absent aggressive effort by Pakistan to root out terrorists and radical militants.

"I think the key is whether Pakistan will go into North Waziristan and other places and take out those terrorist leaders who are essentially fuelling and leading attacks against our troops in Afghanistan," said Feinstein.

Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit rejected Feinstein`s assertion, insisting that there was no question of Pakistan`s capacity to fight the war with its own resources. "Pakistan has killed and arrested over 700 al-Qaeda operatives so there is no question about our capacity. We are very confident. We can deal with it through our own national resources provided there is sharing of real-time intelligence," Basit said yesterday at a news briefing.