And the drone policy continues…

There is no single journalist who is more knowledgeable and incisive when it comes to the consequences of the so-called ‘war on terror’ on Pakistan than Rahimullah Yusufzai. Since so much nonsense has been proliferating about Pakistan courtesy of both ill-informed Western journalists, and the native informers (*), PULSE will strive to provide fuller coverage of developments in the region.  Here is Rahimullah Yusufzai on the continuing US bombing of the Pakistani tribal belt.

The issue of missile strikes by US drones in Pakistan’s territory has dominated politics and the media in recent days and weeks. The new Obama administration has made it clear the attacks will continue despite statements of disapproval on an almost daily basis by Pakistani leaders, who argue that this policy was undermining Islamabad’s efforts to counter the militancy.

Robert Gates, who has been retained as defence secretary by President Barack Obama to ensure continuity to Washington’s policy in its ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, became the first American official last week to publicly comment on the issue of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Normally, US officials avoid commenting on the topic in public and instead unnamed sources in the Pentagon or the intelligence agencies leak information to the American media about such attacks, along with the claim that someone important in Al Qaeda had been killed. At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr Gates said the US would continue to carry out missile attacks against Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan. The US, he warned, will “go after Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda is.” He also said the decision had been conveyed to the government of Pakistan.

The statement by the US defence secretary left no doubt that the installation of a new president wasn’t going to change Washington’s policy with regard to attacks by the CIA-operated drones in Pakistani territory. Rather, there is every possibility that such strikes will increase in both frequency and intensity, in view of Mr Obama’s pledge during his presidential election campaign that drone attacks in Pakistan would continue even without Islamabad’s approval if there was evidence about the presence of Al Qaeda members. In fact, two such missile strikes were carried out in a single day in North Waziristan and South Waziristan within the first three days of the installation of President Obama, and around 30 people, including women and children, were killed. As usual, the killings were justified by the Americans simply saying that Al Qaeda members were the real target. The implication was that everyone in the two Waziristans and other tribal areas could become a target if he or she happened to live or work near a place frequented by real or imaginary Al Qaeda operatives.

The issue of drone attacks was debated in the Senate where, after consulting the Foreign Office the leader of the House, the PPP’s Mian Raza Rabbani said the US had not conveyed in writing its decision to continue its drone attacks inside Pakistan. He also stated that no unilateral US decision was binding on Pakistan. Now, this is funny, because the US has been carrying out airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas since 2003-2004 when it eliminated Pakistani Taliban commander Nek Mohammad and struck some other targets, and the continuation of that policy, despite the change of government in Islamabad or Washington, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Being the world’s only superpower, the US doesn’t feel the need to seek permission or convey its decisions in writing while dealing with unstable countries ruled by spineless leaders.

Pakistan abdicated its right to be taken seriously long ago when it first agreed to assist the US in fighting the Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan, hosting, training and arming the Afghan mujahideen, and then did an about-turn in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to enable America to occupy the same country. Both decisions were made primarily at the behest of the US to advance the American agenda without calculating the consequences that such a policy would have for Pakistan. Pakistani society was radicalised due to the fallout of this policy and the consequences are now in evidence all over the country.

It is meaningless to indulge in a debate on whether the US is simply informing Pakistan, as Mr Gates disclosed about its drone attacks, and that too after the strikes have been made, or there is some kind of understanding between the two countries on the issue. In either scenario, the US doesn’t want a negative answer. Conveying the information about the missile strikes to Pakistan is considered good enough and apparently non-negotiable. If the US hasn’t already secured an understanding from the Pakistani government about the necessity of carrying out the drone attacks to target Al Qaeda figures, it could possibly do so by offering some carrots or by wielding the stick. Having given itself the right to launch pre-emptive attacks anywhere in the world to prevent harm to the US, superpower America is confident that it cannot be made accountable for its actions in our lopsided world where might is always right. Using this right, the US has attacked and occupied countries and bombed faraway places. it has gone too far in its revenge after 9/11 and created for itself a lot more enemies than it previously had.

In terms of airstrikes, Pakistan has suffered more US attacks than Syria, Yemen and Somalia for the simple reason that its tribal areas have been marked as a safe haven for Al Qaeda militants. All these countries are Islamic, just like Iraq and Afghanistan that are under US occupation, and this is a major reason for Muslims to complain that they are the real target of the US-led Western war against terror. It is true that some Al Qaeda operatives have been killed in the drone attacks and others are still hiding in the tribal areas or elsewhere in Pakistan, but the civilian casualties far outnumber of Al Qaeda militants eliminated and the outcome has been a further increase in anti-US sentiment. Still, the US is convinced that its policy is working as the drone strikes are considered an effective tool to hit Al Qaeda-linked militants and deny them safe havens in the tribal borderland. There is no realisation that this policy is destabilising Pakistan and making it increasingly difficult for its weak and directionless PPP-led coalition government to continue cooperating with the US.

Also, the missile strikes in Pakistani territory don’t seem to have lessened the resolve of the Afghan Taliban or weakened their resistance against the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan. Instead, the resurgent Taliban have forced the US to send another 30,000 troops over and above the 75,000 foreign forces already in Afghanistan by opening new frontlines and spreading their presence to 72 percent of the Afghan territory as a recent report by a European think-tank observed. If the US and its allies with all their might and technology cannot defeat the largely resourceless and outnumbered Taliban in Afghanistan, where questions of sovereignty have long been put to rest, how is it possible for America to destroy Al Qaeda and its allied Taliban and jihadi groups through occasional drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas? Killing a few Al Qaeda operatives or Pakistani and Afghan militants once in a while may provide a sense of achievement to the US military but it cannot be part of a successful long-term policy to combat militancy and extremism. Militant groups such as Al Qaeda and Taliban have a remarkable capacity to replace fallen comrades and attract new recruits, more so since the cause has a religious dimension. The motivation is to liberate your homeland from foreigners and the enemy is America.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahimyusufzai

* See for example this clown who for some reason has been getting plenty of play in the same Pakistani daily. After one particularly asinine piece in the paper, I mailed this fellow (Farhat Taj) to check if there is an agenda behind his tripe, or he is indeed the tool that his writings he is. The reply I received was even more illiterate than what appears under his byline. Sadly a colonial mentality still prevails in Pakistan where a Western pedigree gets on a license to spew any kind of garbage in the local English language press.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

4 thoughts on “And the drone policy continues…”

  1. There are protests from all quarters in Pakistan that the Drone attacks have not reduced the power of the terrorists, hence it should be stopped.
    Well, the Drone attacks are not meant to wipe out the terrorists, which can only be achieved through ground operations. The Drone attackes are constant reminders to Pakistan that if you do not act, others will.
    Pakistani argument that they have suffered more losses than NATO sounds hollow, as Pakistan is fighting the same elements that they created themselves ! You do not count losses, when you are trying to clear your own mess. You pay for your own mis-deeds, not your neighbour !
    Current Pakistani policy of black-mailing the international community, asking for more dollars, more F-16s and Kashmir on a platter, is doomed to fail, as there are no doubts any more in the minds of international community, about the real face of Pakistan.

  2. That is precisely the kind of tripe I am talking about. The ground operations have been going on since at least 2004, they’ve killed more than 10,000 tribals, displaced hundreds of thousands more. Collective punishment and home demolitions have turned the whole tribal belt against the centre. Disapperances have been rampant. But the living-room napoleons prattle on. They won’t settle for anything less than complete genocide.

  3. What prerequisites must one meet to be defined as an “Al Qaeda militant”, an “Al Qaeda operative” or an “Al Qaeda linked operative”?

    This author uses these ambiguous terms without defining who or what they are. A distinction should be made between those who rightfully resist against attacks and this phantom enemy “Al Qaeda”.

  4. There are not many in Pakistan’s (so called) coalition govt and opposition except Imran Khan (whose following is mostly progressive and moderate urban youth) who has spoken unequivocally against Mushrraf’s policy and merciless military assaults in FATA and now in swat.

    Neel123’s historic amnesia about creation of elements in question could be a result of over exposure to CNN/Fox/BBC …

    Mac’s confusion could be answered with the following lines taken from Imran Khan’s open letter to Obama.

    “You can only win against terrorists if the majority in a community considers them terrorists. Once they become freedom fighters and heroes amongst their people, history tells us that the battle is lost.”

    I am pasting text of the letter from PTI’s official website since i agree with his stance on situation on FATA – not as a PTI promoter.
    Dear President Obama,

    Your extraordinary ascent to the U.S. Presidency is, to a large part, a reflection of your remarkable ability to mobilize society, particularly the youth, with the message of “change.” Indeed, change is what the world is yearning for after eight long and almost endless years of carnage let loose by a group of neo-cons that occupied the White House.

    Understandably, your overarching policy focus would be the security and welfare of all U.S. citizens and so it should be. Similarly, our first and foremost concern is the protection of Pakistani lives and the prosperity of our society. We may have different social and cultural values, but we share the fundamental values of peace, harmony, justice and equality before law.

    No people desire change more than the people of Pakistan, as we have suffered the most since 9/11, despite the fact that none of the perpetrators of the acts of terrorism unleashed on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, were Pakistani. Our entire social, political and economic fabric is in a state of meltdown. Our sovereignty, dignity and self-respect have been trampled upon. The previous U.S. administration invested in dictators and corrupt politicians by providing them power crutches in return for total compliance to pursue its misconceived war on terror.

    There are many threats confronting our society today, including the threat of extremism. In a society where the majority is without fundamental rights, without education, without economic opportunities, without health care, the use of sheer force and loss of innocent lives continues to expand the extremist fringe and contract the space for the moderate majority.

    Without peace and internal security, the notion of investing in development in the war zones is a pipe dream, as the anticipated benefits would never reach the people. So the first and foremost policy objective should be to restore the peace. This can only be achieved through a serious and sustained dialogue with the militants and mitigation of their genuine grievances under the ambit of our constitution and law. Since Pakistan’s founding leader signed a treaty in 1948 with the people of the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas and withdrew Pakistani troops, they had remained the most peaceful and trouble-free part of Pakistan up until the post-9/11 situation, when we were asked to deploy our troops in FATA.

    Even a cursory knowledge of Pushtun history shows that for reasons of religious, cultural and social affinity, the Pushtuns on both sides of the Durand Line (which marks the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan) cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of their brethren on either side. The Pushtuns are proud of their history of resisting every invader from Alexander onwards, to the Persians, Moghuls, British and the Russians (all superpowers of their times) who were all bogged down in the Pushtun quagmire. So, no government, Pakistani or foreign, will ever be able to stop Pushtuns crossing over the 1,500-kilometer border to support their brethren in distress on either side, even if it means fighting the modern-day superpower in Afghanistan. Recent history shows how the mighty Soviet Union had to retreat from Afghanistan with its army defeated even though it had killed over a million Afghans.

    To an average Pushtun, notwithstanding the U.N. Security Council sanction, the U.S. is an occupying power in Afghanistan that must be resisted. It is as simple as that. Therefore, the greatest challenge confronting U.S. policy in Afghanistan is how to change its status from an occupier to a partner. The new U.S. administration should have no doubt that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. As more innocent Pushtuns are killed, more space is created for new Taliban and even Al-Qaida recruits–revenge being an integral part of the Pushtun character. So, as with Iraq, the U.S. should give a time table for withdrawal from Afghanistan and replace NATO and U.S. forces with U.N. troops during the interim period.

    The Pushtuns then should be involved in a dialogue process where they should be given a stake in the peace. As the majority’s stake in peace grows, proportionately the breeding ground for extremists shrinks.

    The crucial lesson the U.S. needs to learn–and learn quickly–is that you can only win against terrorists if the majority in a community considers them terrorists. Once they become freedom fighters and heroes amongst their people, history tells us that the battle is lost.

    Terrorism worldwide is an age-old phenomenon and cannot be eliminated by rampaging armies, no matter how powerful. It can only be contained by a strategy of building democratic societies and addressing the root causes of political conflicts. The democratization part of this strategy demands a strategic partnership between the West and the people of the Islamic world, who are basically demanding dignity, self-respect and the same fundamental rights as the ordinary citizen in the West enjoys. However, this partnership can only be forged if the U.S. and its close Western allies are prepared to accept and coexist with credible democratic governments in the Islamic world that may not support all U.S. policies as wholeheartedly as dictators and discredited politicians do in order to remain in power.

    The roots of terror and violence lie in politics–and so does the solution. We urge the new administration to conduct a major strategic review of the U.S.-led war on terror, including the nature and kind of support that should realistically be expected of Pakistan keeping in mind its internal security interests. Linking economic assistance to sealing of its western frontier will only force the hand of a shaky and unstable government in Pakistan to use more indiscriminate force in FATA, a perfect recipe for disaster.

    The stability of the region hinges on a stable Pakistan. Any assistance to improve governance and social indicators must not be conditional. For the simple reason that any improvement in the overall quality of life of ordinary citizens and more effective writ of the state would only make mainstream society less susceptible to extremism. However, if the new U.S. administration continues the Bush administration’s mantra of “do more,” to which our inept leadership is likely to respond to by using more force, Pakistan could become even more accessible to forces of extremism leading to further instability that would spread across the region, especially into India, which already faces problems of extremism and secessionist movements. Such a scenario would benefit no one–certainly not Pakistan and certainly not the U.S. That is why your message of meaningful change, Mr. President, must guide your policies in this region also.

    Copied from PTI’s website.

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