Pakistan PM uses UN address to press US over drone strikes

Nawaz Sharif says the use of drones violates his country's sovereignty

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.
Andrew Burton/Reuters

Speaking Friday at the U.N. General Assembly, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on the United States to stop drone strikes, saying they amounted to "a continued violation of our territorial integrity."

"The war against terrorism must be waged within the framework of international law," Sharif said (PDF). "I have urged the United States to cease these strikes, so that we could avert further casualties and suffering."

Sharif has been an outspoken critic of the drone strikes, which date back to the George W. Bush administration but increased significantly under President Barack Obama. Since taking office in June, the Pakistani leader has repeatedly called the strikes an infringement on his country's sovereignty and international law. 

There have been more than 300 drone strikes over Pakistani territory since 2009, according to the New America Foundation. While the number of strikes has decreased over the last few years, more than 2,000 people have been killed as a result of them since 2009. The majority are believed to be militants, according to the New America Foundation. 

While the U.S. government's position has been that the strikes are carefully targeted to hit al-Qaeda and its affiliates, civilian casualties have also resulted, creating negative sentiments among Pakistani politicians and the public. 

In August, during a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Sharif’s foreign affairs adviser, Sartaj Aziz, said, "We will continue this dialogue on how to stop this policy of drone attacks as far as the U.S. is concerned."

But Kerry, at the same press conference, shifted the blame for the need for drone strikes to al-Qaeda. 

"I would simply remind all of our friends that somebody like an al-Qaeda leader, like (Ayman) al-Zawahiri, is violating the sovereignty of this country, and when they attack people in mosques and blow up people in villages and marketplaces, they are violating the sovereignty of the country."

In May, at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Obama addressed the drone issue, arguing that doing nothing "in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties." 

"The terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes," Obama said.

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