Jan 25, 2010

The government should come up with a clear policy on drone attacks

By Mazhar Khan Jadoon

President Asif Ali Zardari, during a meeting with American pointman on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke on January 15, said drone attacks should be stopped. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, talking to a delegation of US senators headed by John McCain, said drone attacks should stop immediately. Parliament's Special Committee on National Security demanded on January 14 the United States should immediately stop drone attacks inside Pakistan. Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said the ongoing drone attacks inside Pakistan should stop because these attacks are denting the war on terror. Pakistan Foreign Office has repeatedly protested these attacks as "they are an infringement of its sovereignty and caused hundreds of civilian deaths, including women and children, which has further angered the Pakistani people". Pakistani politicians - both on treasury and opposition benches - are united in their stand that drones must stop killing innocent Pakistanis.

Even American anti-war activists, who rallied near CIA Headquarters in Virginia on January 17, protested against US drone attacks inside Pakistan.

Despite all this hullaballoo, these strikes have picked up momentum instead of coming to a halt. The US should take the Pakistani concerns and protests seriously, otherwise the snowballing anti-Americanism may win more recruits for al-Qaeda and its narrative. A fact reported by Western media and acknowledged by many Pakistani analysts is that US military and Pakistani authorities are in agreement over these strikes. Pakistani officials and politicians are just trying to appease the angry masses by publicly condemning and secretly supporting these strikes.

Defence experts say it is hard to believe that drones keep killing people without the consent of Pakistani government keeping in view the fact that Pakistani forces have the capability to shoot down drones. Can the rulers allow Indian drones to hit targets inside Pakistan? a question arises. Definitely not because they have no such understanding with India. The government should stop fooling the people and come up with a clear policy of either publicly supporting or effectively stopping these strikes.

British newspaper The Time stated on February 18, 2009 that the CIA was using Shamsi Airfield, 190 miles southwest of Quetta and 30 miles from the Afghan border, as its base for drone operations. The paper said "the planes can be seen flying from the base. The area around the base is a high-security zone and no one is allowed there".

According to The Daily Telegraph, Pakistani authorities have agreed to secretly provide information to the United States on Mehsud's and his militants' whereabouts while publicly the Pakistani government will continue to condemn the attacks. According to Pakistani authorities, from January 14, 2006 to April 8, 2009, 60 US strikes had killed 701 people, of which 14 were Al-Qaeda militants and 687 innocent civilians.

Defense analysts think that Americans would try to provide some relief to Pakistan but they would not change their policy about the drone attacks. The US must stop the drone attacks, but it is not clear if the Pakistani government is really interested in pursuing an end to drone attacks, they added.

Once in the White House, Barack Obama has authorised the continuation of these strikes. Top US officials consider these strikes very successful and believe that the senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership has been decimated by these strikes. A list of the high-ranking victims of the drones was provided to Pakistan in 2009. Obama was reported in March 2009 as considering expanding these strikes to Balochistan.

US officials stated in March 2009 that the Predator strikes had killed nine of al-Qaeda's 20 top commanders. The officials added that many top Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, as a result of the strikes, had fled to Quetta or even further to Karachi.

Some US politicians have condemned the drone strikes. US Congressman Dennis Kucinichi asserted that the United States was violating international law by carrying out strikes against a country that never attacked the United States.

US military claims al-Qaeda is being slowly and systematically routed because of these drone attacks. The US thinks these drone attacks have frightened and confused the militants groups and have pitched them against each other.

Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad on January 7, 2010, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberaman stated the drone attacks were effective and would continue. The US senators admitted that though there existed no agreement between Pakistan and the US regarding drone attacks inside Pakistan's territory, yet drones would continue to operate.

Washington is also pushing Islamabad to start military action against the Haqqani network and their tribal allies in North Waziristan - a demand unlikely to be met as the Pakistani forces have been stretched thin on Western borders fighting terrorists and on eastern border warding off Indian forces. It is time the US stopped directing Pakistan and started listening to it if it really wants to wriggle out of the mess it has created in Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan.

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