Never allowed US to use Pak airbases for drone strikes: Gilani

Last Updated: Sun, Jul 03, 2011 19:48 hrs

Islamabad: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani today said his government had never allowed the US to use Pakistani airbases for drone strikes in the tribal region, adding another twist to the controversy between the two countries over the CIA's unmanned spy plane campaign.

"My government has not allowed the US to use Pakistani airbases for drone strikes," Gilani said during an interaction with reporters in his hometown of Multan in Punjab province.

Responding to a question, he said, "The previous government of President Pervez Musharraf had allowed the US to use airbases for reconnaissance purposes."

Gilani's statements came amidst a controversy over Shamsi airbase in southwestern Balochistan province, which the US has reportedly been using for drone flights.

Since the 1990s, the airbase has been under the control of the United Arab Emirates, which has given the US access to it. Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said last week that Pakistan had asked the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase. However, unnamed US officials have told the Western media that the airbase is not being vacated. They also said that American personnel were still stationed at the airbase though drone flights from Shamsi had been suspended since April.

Adding to the confusion, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan on Friday cast doubts on the remarks attributed to Defence Minister Mukhtar.

"It's just a statement for the media," she said. She claimed the matter had not been discussed in meeting of the government's defence committee. 

The unmanned aircraft regularly carry out missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions despite public opposition by Pakistani leaders. The US has ruled out any change in its policy and insists that the drones are useful to eliminate Al Qaeda and Taliban elements.

Answering another question about tensions along the border with Afghanistan, Gilani said Islamabad has lodged a protest with Kabul over recent incursions by militants into Pakistani territories from Afghan soil. The Pakistan Army says militants from Afghan soil have launched five attacks on into Pakistani territories in a month, killing nearly 50 soldiers and injuring around 80 others.

Afghan authorities allege that Pakistani forces have fired hundreds of rockets and artillery shells into eastern Nangrahar and Kunar provinces, causing civilian casualties. Asked about the possibility of a military operation being launched against militants in North Waziristan tribal region, Gilani said Pakistan will not carry out operation in the area on the dictations of others.

"If it is in the interest of the country, we will go ahead with the plan and if it is not in our interest, we will not launch any operation on other's demands," he said.

The army and the political leadership are on the same page to deal with the issue of violent militancy, he said. In response to another question, Gilani ruled out snap polls in Pakistan in the wake of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement parting ways with the ruling coalition.

He said his government will complete its five year term and the next election will be held in early 2013 according to schedule.

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