The general was refreshingly frank in his appraisal. “Myths and rumors about U.S. Predator strikes and casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that most of those being killed … are hardcore elements, a sizable number of them foreigners,” said Maj. Gen. Ghayur Mehmood, general officer commanding in North Waziristan, earlier this month. After the March 17 drone strike in the tribal agency left at least 40 civilians dead, the Army hit back—through a strongly-worded press release.
The Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, “strongly condemns” the attack, said Inter Services Public Relations. The “senseless” American action was “highly regrettable” and perpetrated “carelessly and callously” with “complete disregard [of] human life.” The military said Pakistan Army “is fighting the terrorists and not its brethren in the tribal areas” and that it had conveyed to the U.S. “that such aggression against the people of Pakistan is unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances.”
Hot on the heels of CIA contractor Raymond Davis’s release from a Lahore jail under Shariah law, the Army, politicians, and talking heads were suddenly all on the same anti- America page in a rare show of unanimity. The Foreign Office read Ambassador Cameron Munter the riot act. “Pakistan should not be taken for granted nor treated as a client state,” said the foreign ministry’s Salman Bashir. So has Pakistan decided to end the ambiguity and take a firm position on drones? If only things were that simple.
Pakistan’s media and public are convinced drones are killing innocents. But while those attending the Nevi Adda Shega jirga that fateful day last week were all tribesmen, not all of them were peaceniks. It is unlikely if not impossible to convene a jirga without the approval of the Taliban, and subsequent media reports claim at least 12 of those killed on March 17 were, in fact, Taliban fighters.
Drone attacks suggest that the state is either not in control of its frontiers or is incapable of taking out the militants on its own or does not want to tackle terrorism—or all of the above. The military’s refusal to open a front in North Waziristan has turned it into a safe haven for local and foreign militants who plot their moves against foreign forces in Afghanistan—and against Pakistan itself.
The rhetoric against drones is more pro forma than proactive. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know the government’s real position: support the strikes privately, and bemoan about them publicly. “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it,” Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the then U.S. ambassador Anne W. Patterson. As for the Army, it has—at least in the past—been providing intel support for the strikes. Some of the drones take off from bases in Pakistan. This makes it difficult to take seriously the outrage of either Islamabad or Rawalpindi.
The Army’s recent condemnation of the strikes is remarkable only because it appears to show that the U.S. is not listening to Pakistani officials and officers—and doesn’t care how it is viewed by riotous nationalists. The CIA ran the March 17 strike right after Davis’s release, which has angered the street here, and ended up embarrassing our entire power structure. Quiet Kayani had to step in to make sure the public knows that the Army was not involved in the Davis matter and can stare down America if it wants to. We hear you, the Army seems to be saying, and agree with you.
The U.S. is not concerned about the Pakistani pulse when it comes to acting on reliable information about Taliban and Al Qaeda targets. Drones are cheap and efficient, and tell the militants—and the American people—that the Obama administration means business. The strikes also dispel the myth that our military has been able to use the Davis affair as leverage to get greater say in how the U.S. conducts itself in the region. Drones have their downside (unmanageable public reactions being the worst), but they count among the most effective weapons against the Bin Ladenists.
This latest flap is a wake-up call for the political and military leaders of both countries to stop making each other look bad. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together.
(From Newsweek, Pakistan)