Pakistan allows US drones buzzing about in their territory??
By Qandeel Shaam
Is it me or have Pakistanis been conspicuously quiet about US drones buzzing about in their territory?
On January 27, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates vowed to continue carrying out missile strikes “against al-Qaeda in Pakistan.” A few days ago, on 28 March 2009, US National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones defended US drone attacks in Pakistan, claiming that “the attacks have done a couple of things: One, they have been targeted very specifically against al Qaeda, two, they produce very low collateral damage.”1
Wow. Encroaching upon another country’s territory, sovereignty, and targeting militants that only you have the intelligence of seeing? Killing civilians, women and children, in the process? Is this “low collateral damage”? Is the US so arrogantly bumptious or Pakistan so pussywhipped?
There have been numerous reports of civilians dying in the process, so how are the targets “specific”? Is it even possible for the targets to be “specific” when the alleged militants are hiding out in residential houses or madrassas? To quote Juan Cole, “it’s not a precision sort of business, and if you strike at a village, you are likely to kill locals and civilians.”2
Furthermore, it is not – I repeat, NOT – rocket science to be able to see that you are merely adding grist to the militancy mill by conducting such strikes. Is the mess in Afghanistan not proof enough of this? And when top terrorists start making references to the US strikes in Pakistan in their tirades, are they not managing to incite more hatred and get more recruits? When the average tribesman or city dweller in Pakistan hears about these attacks, don’t they resent the US? Are they provoked? Doesn’t it also aggravate the Pakistani expat living in the West?
On some level, doesn’t our shock and indignation at the ballsy US violation outweigh our dislike for the militants? So how exactly are these US drones in Pakistan combating extremism?
Only this year:
January 1: a suspected US missile strike killed five “Taliban militants” (later dubbed “al-Qaeda leader” in Pakistan) in South Waziristan.
January 2: US spy planes fire missiles at a government girls’ primary school and a car allegedly owned by militants, in South Waziristan.
January 23: first attack since Barack Obama assumed presidency. Missile strikes by US drones in North Waziristan killed 10 people, six of whom were allegedly hardcore militants. South Waziristan was attacked on the same day – killing local tribesmen (including children) according to official and tribal sources.
February 16: first (known) US drone strike in Kurram Agency; three missiles fired, killing 30 suspected militants.
March 1: US drones fire two missiles at a house – claimed to be a “Taliban sanctuary” – in South Waziristan, killing 12 people.
March 12: US drones strike a “Taliban training camp” in Kurram Agency, killing 15 and injuring 50.
March 15: two missile attacks killed 5 people in the Bannu district of NWFP.
March 25: seven Arabs were allegedly killed in a US drone attack in the Makeen area of South Waziristan3
March 26: US drones fired two missiles into a house in Mir Ali in North Waziristan, killing four residents4
Under the Bush administration, the initial targeting was mainly against the hide-outs and training camps of al-Qaeda and its associates. Under Obama, the targets have been expanded to cover the hide-outs and training camps of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in all these areas and of Gulbuddin Heckmatyar’s Hizbe-Islami in the Kurram Agency. There are talks now of extending military operations to Balochistan “where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan”5 I don’t know how much of this constitutes “political posturing”, but it doesn’t matter if it adds immediately and fiercely to the anti-US sentiments prevalent already in Pakistan, amongst the extremists and increasingly the layperson. And the Pakistani diaspora.
On February 13 came the revelation (by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee) that the US predators are flown from an airbase inside Pakistan. The CIA declined to comment while Pakistani officials chose denial. Rehman Malik, for example, offered no comment on the statement of Maj-Gen (R) Rahat Latif that as part of a secret agreement between former President Pervez Musharraf and the United States, NATO could intrude into Pakistani territory in pursuit of terrorists.6
So what happens next?
You could say that Pakistan was already on a merry old flight to hell, but now the US has hijacked the plane, and made it less merry.