Mar 2, 2009

About-turn over drones?

The original definition of the word ‘drone’ was … ‘A male bee, especially a honeybee, that is characteristically stingless, performs no work, and produces no honey. Its only function is to mate with the queen bee.’ The drones that potter about in our skies these days are hardly stingless, they seem to work hard and the ‘honey’ they produce is the body-count at the end of their missions. Hitherto they have been invaders of our sovereignty, violators of our airspace and all-round naughty drones much in need of having their bottoms spanked by the Pakistan Air Force. Except that these naughty drones, far from creeping covertly over our borders to do their dirty work, set off from hives within our homeland as revealed courtesy of the poor-mans spook Google Earth last week. Nobody’s sovereignty is being invaded as the little devils are here with our by-your-leave, our guests, even. It is this redefined status that is reflected in statements by our Foreign Minister, who along with the Chief of Army Staff General Kayani and the Afghan foreign minister is in Washington; there to work on the nitty-gritty of the new ‘Af-Pak’ policy.The director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, said on Wednesday that US Predator attacks against extremists inside Pakistan would continue despite concerns about both collateral damage and a backlash within Pakistani society that has now moved America into the position of ‘principal hate figure’ and all-purpose scapegoat. Panetta refused to discuss any details, but said that the efforts begun under President George W Bush to destabilise Al Qaeda and destroy its leadership “have been successful”. There have been at least three dozen Predator strikes in Pakistan since late last summer, with two of them happening during the Obama administration. The talks between the US administration and representatives of both the Afghan and Pakistani governments are unprecedented. This is the Americans taking a more holistic and inclusive approach to the problems of the region, which in turn is going to require a more realistic and pragmatic engagement by ourselves. No more heads-in-sand and blanket denials in the face of manifest truths. “We have two goals,” a senior administration official said. One is to receive their (Af-Pak) input for the ongoing strategy review; “But it’s also to hear commitments – the Pakistanis on taking on terrorists themselves, and the Afghans on cleaning up their government.” Our foreign minister has responded by saying that…“the present (US) administration is willing to listen. They are very frank. They’re saying, ‘We do not have a magic formula. . . . Let Pakistan, let the US, let Afghanistan – let’s all stick together and find a solution.” The drones were always a sideshow. Expect to hear fewer complaints about ‘invaded sovereignty’. Expect to see more attack helicopters to replace our aging and worn out aircraft. And, perhaps, expect to see a Pakistani hand on the control stick as the drones go about their work – which really would be an about-face.

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