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 @yahoo.com
* 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.