Drone Attacks and National Sovereignty
A lot has been said against American drone attacks as a violation of sovereignty of Pakistan but the issue is getting more intense by each passing day. When the US drones attack Pakistan’s tribal areas, it is not just the ten, twenty or fifty innocent civilians they kill but it creates the anti-US sentiments in masses and a global feeling of disgust against US. Few stay mum and numb but there is large number of victims who vent their hatred very violently against US and its ally Pakistan. US is insensitive to the fact that civilian killings in these drone attacks provides reason to the youngsters for joining terrorist groups waging war against US and of course Pakistan, for being its closest ally in war on terror.
The drone strikes have pushed militants deeper into Pakistan and gave them an excuse to strike the heart of the country, further destabilizing it. No doubt drone attacks did kill some militants but at what cost?
US killed several hundred innocent Pakistanis and few militants in the tribal region of Pakistan in drone attacks since 2004. Apart from ineffectiveness, legality of these attacks is another major issue. According to New America Foundation the drone war against Al Qaeda’s leaders and, increasingly, their Pakistani-based Taliban allies has been waged with little public discussion or congressional investigation of its legality or efficacy. Current US leadership has not only continued the drone program but expanded it up further. In 2007, there were three drone strikes in Pakistan, 34 in 2008, 53 in 2009 and more than 37 so far in 2010.
One of the cruel facts former intelligence officials have acknowledged is that in many cases, the CIA had little information about those killed in the strikes. In January 2006, US attempted to kill Abu Khabab and Aiman Zawahiri through Drone attack when they were believed to be in Damadola, but instead killed 80 civilians, including half-dozen kids. Who is accountable for those killings?
It is claimed by some US officials that the attacks on Pakistani civilians have been carried out on the request of Pakistani authorities or with their consent but the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani has categorically said that there is no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border. Even President Asif Ali Zardari protested, “It’s undermining my sovereignty, and it’s not helping win the war on the hearts and minds of people.” And, in January, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani told media that there was no agreement between his government and the Americans to allow the strikes. Now CIA has been granted approval by the US government to expand drone strikes in other areas of Pakistan.
Shuja Nawaz, the author of “Crossed Swords” says, “Any drone attack in provinces outside of the tribal regions would be disastrous, totally destroying the American relationship with the Pakistani army.”
Problems with drone attacks are not limited to civilian causalities but now this issue has started turning into a complete volcano for Pakistan’s internal stability. Ideology of revenge is gripping the victims and those who are not in favor of any direct conflict with US are looking towards armed forces for a proper reply. CIA claims that drone attacks have killed ten of al-Qaeda’s 20 top commanders. But what CIA doesn’t tell to the world is the fact that while killing those 10 militants, the US has murdered more than 1400 Pakistanis not involved in any terrorist or extremist activities. Could it not imply that it killed 10 militants and gave birth to another 1400?
Lots of terrorists, who CIA believed, would have been killed in these attacks are still alive in actuality and waging a ruthless propaganda war inside country against armed forces being complicit in these drone attacks. A notable thing is that Pakistan’s Chief of Air Force announced that his force has capability to strike down the US drones and can do so if government directs him so. Public pressure on government is mounting through media and civil society in this regard and recent surge in drone attacks would increase in this pressure even more.
If Pakistan decides to strike down every US drone in the future, what would US do? Situation has already gone out of control for US in Afghanistan now and is forced to engage Taliban through negotiations. Any decision by US to attack Pakistan in retaliation would be disastrous not only for US interests. China and Iran would never like US presence in another neighboring country so they won’t sit quietly. Russians would have the best opportunity to avenge obviously. American public would definitely stand against its own government, this time more aggressively due to poor economy.
In above mention situation Pakistan can make life of Americans in Afghanistan a lot difficult to force US administration to reconsider their drone war in Pakistani tribal areas, only reason why it is not happening right now is presence of a weak, inept and pro-US government in Islamabad. Looking at internal politics and ever mounting public pressure against US drone attacks in Pakistan it would be prudent to assume that political situation would not remain the same in near future.
Current corrupt government has even failed to send a strong message that US must refrain itself from violating Pakistan’s Air space as tolerance level against drone attacks in Pakistani masses is reaching its critical thresh hold.
CIA is pursuing agenda assigned by US administration to protect its own interests and it would continue what it is doing right now with Pakistan’s sovereignty. Question is when Islamabad would realize that it is failing miserably in protecting its citizen and interests? Only workable solutions that grantees accurate drone strikes is to transfer the drone technology to the Pakistani forces so that Pakistani forces can enhance their operational capabilities without creating anti-American sentiments in the local masses otherwise US must get ready to face the consequences in Afghanistan by victims and their heirs and must forget about winning hearts and minds of Afghan or Pakistani people.
By: Shehla Zafar