KABUL: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday called for an end to US drone campaign in Pakistan during a meeting with Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, Express News reported.
Hagel arrived in Islamabad today for talks as Washington seeks to defuse tensions over controversial US drone strikes and Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.
Nawaz said peaceful Pakistan is crucial for peace in the entire region and that drone strikes should be stopped to ensure this as well as better relationship between Pakistan and the US.
“Drone strikes have a negative impact on Pakistan’s efforts against extremism,” he stressed.
In the first visit by a US defence secretary in nearly four years, Hagel flew from Kabul to Islamabad and met Prime Minister Nawaz and other top officials, including the country’s new army chief.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad have been seriously strained over US drone strikes in the country’s tribal belt as well as alleged militants’ sanctuaries inside Pakistan.
“Secretary Hagel met with Prime Minister Nawaz on his visit to Washington earlier this year and looks forward to continuing candid and productive conversations,” Pentagon spokesperson Carl Woog told reporters on Sunday.
President Barack Obama has defended the drone strikes as an effective, lawful tool used with restraint to target suspected al Qaeda militants. But human rights groups and politicians in Pakistan say the missile attacks have killed innocent civilians and must stop.
Hagel warns over Nato supply closure
Hagel warned Sharif that US lawmakers could withhold military assistance if Islamabad failed to ensure security for the key supply route.
“There will be those home back in Congress… who will seize upon this issue if it continues to be a concern,” a defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters after Hagel’s talks with the prime minister.
The visit came as Hagel’s deputies withdrew Sunday’s statement that NATO shipments out of Afghanistan through Pakistan would resume due to the end of anti-drone protests.
In recent weeks activists opposed to the drone raids forcibly searched trucks in northwest Pakistan in a campaign to disrupt NATO supply routes through the Torkham gate border crossing.
The club-wielding protesters have prompted US officials to halt the shipments to protect the truck drivers.
Contractors were still concerned at the protests and the suspension had not been lifted, officials travelling with Hagel said.
Torkham gate is the main overland route used by the Americans and NATO to withdraw military hardware from Afghanistan as part of the troop pullout set to wrap up by the end of 2014.
The US provides major defence aid to Pakistan, including “coalition support funds” in which Washington reimburses Islamabad for the cost of counter-terrorism operations.
“The secretary made the point that we need to demonstrate the continued flow of goods in order to be able to continue fulfilling their reimbursements,” the defence official said.
Hagel visited Pakistan on Monday “in recognition of the tremendous support that Pakistan has provided in the war on terror”, a senior US defence official told reporters.
The defence secretary wanted to affirm continued US military assistance, the official said.
“There is some friction in the relationship” and Hagel wished to tackle that “head on”, he added.
Meeting with new COAS
As part of his brief visit to Islamabad, Hagel met with newly appointed army chief General Raheel Sharif in a bid to establish a constructive dialogue.
“Issues concerning (the) defence relationship, Pak-US bilateral ties and regional stability came under discussion,” the Pakistan military said after Hagel met the army chief.
The position holds special significance in Pakistan and US officials are anxious to forge a constructive dialogue with a figure expected to be at the centre of decision making on sensitive security questions.
The veteran infantry commander last month succeeded General Ashfaq Kayani, who is retiring after six years at the helm.
Hagel’s spokesperson said the defence secretary looked forward to discussing with his counterparts “the United States and Pakistan’s common interest in a stable Afghanistan.”