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Pakistan asks U.S. to end drone strikes, remove mistrust

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Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari Saturday reiterated demand for ending US drone attacks on militants in its tribal areas and called for removing a “trust deficit” with the United States.

Zardari’s remarks came after talks with US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman, who arrived in the Pakistani capital on Friday for meetings with top officials.

“They discussed bilateral relations, the fight against militancy, the regional situation, drug trafficking and drone attacks,” presidential spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar told reporters.

Zardari “reiterated his call for an end to the drone attacks, terming them counterproductive in the fight against militancy and in the battle of winning hearts”, Babar said.

“We need to discuss alternatives on the question of drone attacks,” Babar quoted Zardari as saying.

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Zardari said “the goal of establishing a long-term, sustained and durable Pakistan-US equation would remain elusive until the issue of trust deficit was addressed in an effective manner”.

Attacks by unmanned US aircraft are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, which says they violate its sovereignty and fan anti-US sentiment, but American officials are said to believe they are too important to give up.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also held talks with Grossman and said his country regarded its relations with the United States as “very important”, and that Pakistan valued it as a major development partner.

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“We have a shared objective in fighting terrorism and need to cooperate more to get rid of this menace,” said a statement issued by Ashraf’s office.

Grossman had said future relations between Pakistan and the United States should be based on market access and trade, it said.

The US government was working on a bilateral investment treaty to “facilitate” US investment in Pakistan and improve market access, according to the statement, adding Washington has promised 200 million dollars for the construction of the Diamer-Basha dam in northern Pakistan.

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A statement issued by the US embassy in Islamabad said Grossman had also held talks with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and parliamentarians.

The US envoy also raised the case of Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who was jailed in May for 33 years after he was arrested following the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US troops a year earlier.

However, the statement did not mention the response by Pakistani officials.

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The US had earlier admitted Afridi was working with US intelligence by collecting DNA to verify bin Laden’s presence in the northern town of Abbottabad — although he was eventually jailed for alleged ties to a warlord.

The relationship between Islamabad and Washington has been rocky for years, and relations have only just resumed after nosediving following the raid that killed bin Laden and an air raid that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops.

Washington considers Pakistan’s semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt as the main hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.

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Grossman in the talks also addressed the issue of an anti-Islam video produced in the United States and circulating on the Internet that has led to protests in a number of countries.

He stated very clearly, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done, “that the United States Government had absolutely nothing to do with this video”, said the embassy statement.

The movie, “Innocence of Muslims”, portrays Muslims as immoral and gratuitously violent. A mob stormed the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi on Tuesday, killing the US ambassador and several other staff, as part of a wave of protests over the video across the Islamic world.

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Separately, the Pakistani foreign ministry in a statement said Khar will visit the US from September 18-22.

Khar will hold talks with Clinton and other senior US officials, and also meet with lawmakers, academics and visit think-tanks, it said.

She will later proceed to New York to join a delegation led by Zardari to participate in the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly session, it said.


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