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Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Pakistan 'mulls US drone action'

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Karachi

File picture of a US missile strike in Pakistan
Damage to civilian life and property is making Pakistan's leaders uneasy

Pakistan's PM Yousuf Raza Gilani says his government is considering "a number of options" to counter attacks by US drones inside its territory.

His statement came after Pakistan's air force chief said his force was equipped to tackle the drones militarily.

US-operated pilotless drones have launched more than 20 missile attacks in Pakistani tribal areas since August.

The government is under immense public pressure to defend its territory against such attacks.

The drone attacks are believed to have been largely on-target, hitting Taleban and al-Qaeda hideouts in the north-western Waziristan tribal region.

There have been few civilian casualties, officials say.

But Pakistani media and opposition parties term these attacks as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

'Counter-productive'

"We have a number of options that we can consider to counter these attacks, apart from going to the UN," Prime Minister Gilani said in an interview with private Geo TV on Tuesday night.

Archive image of a US "hunter-killer" drone, the MQ-9 Reaper, which has been deployed in Afghanistan

He said these options would be considered by the parliamentary committee on national security which was constituted earlier this month.

Mr Gilani denied that his government had any tacit or verbal agreement with the US over drone attacks.

The interview was aired hours after the chief of Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Air Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmad, told reporters that the PAF was capable of stopping drone attacks inside Pakistan.

But orders to this effect had to come from the government, he added.

"The decision as to whether or not we want to start a war [with the US] will have to be made by the nation and the government," Air Marshal Ahmed said.

The opposition have been pressing the government either to counter US strikes militarily, or to at least raise the issue at the United Nations.

The Pakistani government says these attacks are counter-productive as they help offset the negative popularity the Islamist militants have gained in areas under their control.

However, it has been reluctant to move either diplomatically or militarily to stop these strikes.

This has fuelled speculation that the attacks may be part of a secret pact between Pakistan and the US.



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