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Pakistan parliament committee demands end to U.S. drone strikes

By Qasim Nauman and Rebecca Conway

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani parliamentary committee reviewing ties with the United States demanded on Tuesday a halt to U.S. drone aircraft strikes in Pakistan, a request likely to do little to help mend a badly frayed alliance between the countries.

A NATO attack across the border from Afghanistan on November 26 killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and created a deep crisis and prompted Pakistan to review ties with the United States, a source of about $20 billion in aid over the last decade.

Pakistan halted supplies going through its territory to U.S.-led NATO troops in land-locked Afghanistan in protest the death of the soldiers and it forced U.S. personnel off a base that had been used to launch drone strikes on militants in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun areas along the Afghan border.

A halt in drone strikes and an unconditional apology for the "condemnable and unprovoked" NATO attack were the national security committee's main recommendations, its chairman Raza Rabbani, told parliament.

"It needs to be realized that drone attacks are counterproductive, cause loss of valuable lives and property, radicalize the local population, create support for terrorists and fuel anti-American sentiments," Rabbani said.

Despite some hopes for a new direction in ties with the United States, the committee recommendations covered little that was new.

"What the committee has said is not foreign policy," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst. "These are only guidelines, which the government can consider while devising foreign policy."

"This is just a wish list."

Pakistanis have long publicly complained about the drone strikes and demanded they be halted while privately approving and even aiding in their execution.

"USEFUL"

The attacks by the unmanned aircraft, which U.S. officials say are highly effective against militants, fuel anti-U.S. sentiment because they are seen by much of the public as violations of sovereignty which inflict civilian casualties.

But it is unlikely they will be stopped, said Talat Masood, a defense analyst and retired general.

"I don't think they will stop conducting them as long as we have the problem of militant sanctuaries," he said. "In certain circles of the military and the civilian government, there is the view that these strikes are useful."

While Pakistan has demanded an apology, preferably from President Barack Obama, for the NATO attack on the border troops, Masood said that, too, was unlikely.

"They are being too ambitious by asking America to apologize," Masood said. "They should apologize, but that's a different matter. This is an election year, and it may be difficult for a Democratic administration to do that."

Pakistan's cooperation is seen as critical to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before most foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014, mainly because of its traditional links with the Afghan Taliban and the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, one of the deadliest factions in Afghanistan.

The United States also needs Pakistani permission to allow supplies to be trucked through two land routes into Afghanistan, which prior to their closure, accounted for almost a third of all NATO cargo to Afghanistan.

Rabbani said that if and when supplies to foreign forces in Afghanistan were resumed, the shipments must be taxed. He insisted that parliament should approve any future use of Pakistani bases or air space by foreign forces.

(Editing by Chris Allbritton)

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