In his first major address as Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif has urged the United States to cease its program of operating drone strikes along the country’s lawless borders with Afghanistan.
"We respect the sovereignty of others, and they should respect our sovereignty and independence. This [drone] campaign must come to an end," Sharif told MPs at the National Assembly. "We must learn others' [Americans’] concerns about us and express our concerns about them and find a way to resolve this issue. These drone strikes that rain in every day have to stop."
The latter comment likely suggests that Sharif wants to clamp down on Islamic militancy in the country, one of the primary reasons why the U.S. is conducting drone missions in the region. Washington believes unnamed drones are an effective way to neutralize Taliban and al Qaeda militant targets on both sides of the border, but Pakistanis have long complained that these missile strikes have killed too many innocent civilians.
Sharif said he is open to peace talks with the Pakistan Taliban, who have killed hundreds of people in recent years in sectarian violence, but the Pakistani Army, still a very powerful force in the country, would likely oppose any such negotiations, citing the failure of previous such endeavors. Indeed, one such U.S. drone strike recently killed Wali-ur Rehman, the deputy leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban in north Waziristan, leading to the militant group rescinding its offer to enter into peace talks with the new Islamabad government.
The prime minister also vowed to tackle some of Pakistan’s seemingly intractable domestic woes, including political corruption, power outages and a crippled economy. “We will be addressing the issue of [the] energy crisis and will reveal a plan soon to improve the situation,” he said, without providing specifics.
Sharif, who has engineered an extraordinary comeback following his ouster as prime minister in 1999 in a coup by army chief Pervez Musharraf, is beginning his third term.
Sharif’s reference to the drone strikes (something virtually everyone in Pakistan opposes) was probably meant to solidify his base of support and attract supporters from other political parties. However, his primary concern is probably dealing with the country’s internal problems.
M. Ilyas Khan, a BBC correspondent in Islamabad, wrote that reducing power cuts is Sharif’s “most immediate concern” and a major reason why he won the election. “But there is no money to fund the cycle of debt between power generation and distribution firms,” Khan wrote. “Also, the power bureaucracy needs restructuring, including some politically damaging lay-offs. Raising revenue is a tough call. ... Sharif's most loyal [group of supporters] comprises the trading and professional classes, who are also the largest tax evaders. While in opposition, his party blocked proposed tax reforms, but he will now be under pressure to do the opposite.”