Mar 2, 2009

Drone attacks undermine Pak govt and military: US report

US drone attacks continue to inflame Pakistani animosity against the United States and undermine both the government and the Pakistani military, says a recent report by a major US think-tank, the Atlantic Council. While reviewing the current political and economic problems confronting Pakistan, the council warns: ‘It is our estimate that the Pakistan government has between 6 -12 months to put in place and implement security and economic policies or face the very real prospect of considerable domestic and political turbulence.’ The council notes that an apparent ‘tacit understanding’ between the Pakistan government and the United States to allow such attacks makes the situation ‘more tenuous and delicate’ for Islamabad. The report, which calls for a substantive change in US policies towards Pakistan, was released jointly by Senator John Kerry and his former Republican colleague Chuck Hagel, who now heads the Atlantic Council. ‘Continuing Predator attacks are testing the ability of the Pakistani government to build a consensus for follow-up actions,’ the report warns. ‘Indeed, both the PML-N and the religious parties in the government coalition have begun to withdraw their support’ for Islamabad’s counter-terrorism policy. ‘So has the ANP government in the NWFP.’ The report concedes that the continuation of drone attacks by the Obama administration has revived public disquiet about this issue in Pakistan. The council also acknowledges that the ‘US support and aid have historically been inconsistent, with generous assistance when the US needed Pakistan, followed by long periods of sanctions when Pakistan took a more independent stance.’ The report notes that the US reluctance to supply some of the equipment and training Pakistan needs urgently for counter-insurgency operations – including helicopters, night vision goggles, intelligence, surveillance and other equipment – has only heightened the trust deficit. ‘The US concern that it would fall into the hands of insurgents or be diverted to the Indian border does not help,’ the report adds. The council acknowledges that the US Congress has been right in asking for accountability of the some $10 billion of Coalition Support Funds and other security related funding made available to the Pakistan Army over the past decade. With regards to the US congress demand of accountability of the some $10 billion of Coalition Support Funds, the report notes that: ‘a principal reason why Pakistan until now has not been forthcoming in responding is because it is possible that well over two thirds of this money did not go to the Army and instead funded other government needs.’ The report concedes that one of the reasons for a lack of trust in US-Pakistan relations is that the US has pursued its relations with Pakistan on a transactional and bilateral and not a regional or strategic basis. The report recommends that ‘this should be corrected.’ Possible Consequences The report notes that some in Washington ‘optimistically argue’ that Pakistan can muddle through these crises, as it has seemed to do in the past. ‘If conditions worsen, many in Washington and in Pakistan believe that an Army takeover and emergency or military rule could well occur again despite Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s determination to keep the military out of politics,’ the report notes. ‘The problem is that, as it has shown over the last nine years, the Army is no better prepared to cope with Pakistan’s many crises than the civilian government.’ The report also notes that at some point, Pakistan might feel forced to enter into negotiations with Taliban and insurgent groups and thus grant greater freedom of movement for militants in FATA and the NWFP. ‘That might relieve some of the violence in Pakistan for the short term. However, as past experience has shown, it would allow extremists to rally and strengthen,’ the report warns. ‘From a US perspective, this would be unwelcome, straining the Washington-Islamabad relationship with major complications for Afghanistan.’ But the report also warns that the deterioration of already dire economic and internal political conditions could further weaken Pakistan’s viability as a state where violence and instability would be difficult – if not impossible – to contain within its borders. This would empower and embolden al Qaeda and other radical groups and will have ‘frightening consequences for vulnerable targets in Britain, Europe, and even the United States.’

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