YASMEEN AFTAB ALI
First published in Nation June 11th 2013
Terrorism must be dealt with. There are no two ways about it. The question is: how it should be dealt with. Not ‘if ‘it should be dealt with. This is a huge challenge for the new government. The killing of Waliur Rahman by a drone strike in June 2013 has made the dubious venture of tabling peace talks with Taliban, even more distant
Without getting into the legal, moral and ethical debate of the use of drones for strikes purportedly to kill militants; the first question that poses itself is: does the ‘Killer Machine’ really target the militants? Yes and no. According to Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “…….Mr Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent” (published NYT May 29, 2012).
Accuracy of drone strikes fundamentally depends on accuracy of intelligence report. Tom Junod in his August 2012 Esquire article admitted: “You get information from intelligence channels and you don’t know how reliable it is or who the source was. The intelligence services have criteria, but most of the time the people making the decision have no idea what those criteria are.”
Drone strikes in Pakistan have led to a historic rise in anti-American sentiments. What it has also done is to alienate the targeted areas from the local government, as it is seen as a party to the arrangement. This may or may not be true. However, perceptions can be more real than reality itself.
Drone strikes have allowed the feeling of anger to be harnessed and used against the innocent people of the country, in the shape of terrorist attacks. For those living in drone targeted areas; constant fear of strikes stalks the land, people are afraid to send their children to schools, they are afraid to go about doing their ordinary chores.
The second question that poses itself in relation to drone attacks is: can these endless attacks go on endlessly? How much bloodshed is enough?
In a recent speech by Mr Obama limiting the use of drone attacks was welcome news. As he noted: “By the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we’ve made against core al-Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.” Reduce. Not end. What does limiting the strikes mean in quantifiable terms? Is limiting the strikes adequate a step to negate the cascading effects of the drone policy?
Another problem with this approach is that it ignores the cost to Pakistan both in terms of lives lost and instability as a direct result of terrorism. The incursion of foreign investment depends on a conducive atmosphere directly linked to political and social stability of the country. The growing unpopularity of American policies in Pakistan directly affects their bilateral relationship, making it increasingly difficult to collaborate on issues of mutual interest. It brings into question the foreign policy of the Government of Pakistan by the people having elected them to office and weakens their faith in democracy.
The importance of developing a drone strategy was visible in the political stance taken by both PML-N and PTI in the election campaigns 2013. Both parties condemned the attacks as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The central government, now in power, will be under tremendous pressure to take a clear-cut stance with regards to the drone policy. However, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan’s strongly worded solution of shooting down drones within Pakistan airspace may not be an option for Pakistan. Better statecraft is needed to resolve this matter. Taking extreme positions on the issue by both countries is counterproductive.
The complication involved here is that it is not the decision of Pakistan government alone to take. The United States feels that by not making drones an intrinsic part of their anti-terrorism policy, it makes US a less safe place to be. This brings us to a whole new complicated dimension of an unequal relationship between the US and Pakistan. Although the Pakistan government has condemned repeatedly the drone attacks, it has apparently not made a serious progress in terms of initiating a dialogue with the US to strategise as to how to address the issue.
Demanding a stop to drone strikes without any option to resolve the issue will not reap dividends. First, the Pakistan government and military must be on the same page. There must be will and determination by both to eradicate terrorism from its soil. All information must be shared, roadmap charted out and a decision mutually reached as to how to handle the issue.
Second, the initial step once taken, the US government must be approached for a serious dialogue, aimed to reach a consensus as to how to go about resolving this situation. If the US is assured that the militants within Pakistan borders can be dealt with by the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan government without the intervention of drones – the American policymakers will be forthcoming in sitting across the table on this one.
Third, if a consensus is reached, the American and Pakistani intelligence reports will have to be shared with each other. No more hide and seek.
Fourth, Pakistan must then walk the talk. If actions do not follow the understanding, the entire process will be nothing but a farce.
This then brings us to the million dollar question: if Pakistan Army and Pakistan government, in order to stop drone strikes within its borders, reach an understanding with the US government to ‘handle’ the militants themselves, where does it leave them in light of the proposed talks with the Taliban? It is a classic Catch 22 situation. The government will have to come up clean with the people, who have entrusted them with the mandate.
Can the third-time elected Prime Minister, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, face up to the challenge?
Yasmeen Aftab Ali is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled “A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan”.
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.