Drone at­tack on Mul­lah Man­soor

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Shahid M Amin

Email:shahid_m_amin@hot­mail.com ULLAH Akhtar Man­soor, the head of Afghan Tal­iban,

killed by a US drone strike on May 21, 2016. Un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles, or drones, have been used by USA to strike tar­gets in Pak­istan since 2004. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics of New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion, a non-par­ti­san US think­tank, 401 drone at­tacks had taken place till Fe­bru­ary 22, 2016. The high­est num­ber was 122 in 2010. The fig­ure was 73 in 2011, 48 in 2012, 26 in 2013, 22 in 2014, 10 in 2015, and 3 in 2016. The to­tal of deaths in th­ese at­tacks was 2,498 mil­i­tants and 560 civil­ians/others. The Lon­don-based Bureau of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism says there were 423 drone strikes, in which 2,497-3,999 mil­i­tants, 423965 civil­ians and 172-207 chil­dren were killed.

Mul­lah Man­soor was vic­tim of the third drone at­tack dur­ing 2016 in which his taxi driver was also killed. A Pak­istani pass­port and CNIC were re­cov­ered from the de­bris giv­ing his name as Wali Muham­mad, res­i­dent of Karachi. The pass­port en­tries showed he pos­sessed an Ira­nian visa and had just re­turned from Iran and hired a taxi on the way to Quetta, when the drone in­ter­cepted him near Cha­gai/Nushki, not far from the Afghan bor­der.

Pak­istan has protested strongly against this drone at­tack, like it had done in the past, as a vi­o­la­tion of Pak­istan’s sovereignty. How­ever, Wik­iLeaks in­di­cated that the Pak­istan govern­ment had tac­itly ac­cepted drone at­tacks while protest­ing pub­licly. In 2014, former Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf told “The New Yorker” mag­a­zine that as Pres­i­dent, he had al­lowed CIA to fly drones within Pak­istan in ex­change for some US mil­i­tary equip­ment. The Pak­istani rea­son­ing prob­a­bly was that drones were killing no­to­ri­ous mil­i­tants, in­clud­ing Bait­ul­lah Mehsud, hid­ing in Pak­istani tribal ar­eas, who were en­gaged in ram­pant ter­ror­ism all over Pak­istan that had killed more than 60,000 Pak­ista­nis. How­ever, with the pass­ing of time, Pak­istan’s po­si­tion hard­ened and in 2011, ex-army chief Gen­eral Kayani is­sued a di­rec­tive to shoot down in­trud­ing drones. Since then, drone at­tacks have be­come less fre­quent, but have not stopped al­to­gether. Other re­ports sug­gest that the Pak­istani mil­i­tary had al­lowed us­age of drones only for vig­i­lance and not for ac­tual strikes.

The lat­est drone at­tack has raised some im­por­tant ques­tions. It was the first drone at­tack in Balochis­tan, hith­erto con­sid­ered off-lim­its. Nearly all pre­vi­ous US drone at­tacks had taken place in Waziris­tan, which had been a sanc­tu­ary of mil­i­tants of var­i­ous hues. Clearly, the US has this time vi­o­lated a red line drawn by the Pak­istani side, and any more such at­tacks would cre­ate a se­ri­ous cri­sis in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. But there is a kind of self-con­tra­dic­tion in work­ing up anti-US feel­ings, con­sid­er­ing that the US re­mains the big­gest aid-giver to Pak­istan and our largest ex­port mar­ket. Drone at­tacks are not aimed at Pak­istani tar­gets but against those who are at war ei­ther with Pak­istan or with the Afghan govern­ment. Not long ago, our Prime Min­is­ter had de­clared that the en­e­mies of Afghanistan were Pak­istan’s en­e­mies.

Sec­ondly, Mul­lah Man­soor’s vis­its to Iran, as recorded on his pass­port, do raise ques­tions as to what was he do­ing there. Iran has all along been pub­licly against the Tal­iban but an ex­pla­na­tion is needed, de­spite Ira­nian de­nials in the mat­ter, about Man­soor’s vis­its to Iran.

Thirdly, Pak­istani of­fi­cials have de­clared that they ap­pre­hend that the killing of Man­soor has di­min­ished or de­stroyed the prospects of Tal­iban par­tic­i­pa­tion in talks for a po­lit­i­cal solution of Afghanistan. On the other hand, it can be ar­gued that peace talks were head­ing nowhere. Even if the Tal­iban had joined such talks, they had set im­pos­si­ble terms for peace, in­clud­ing the to­tal with­drawal of US mil­i­tary per­son­nel be­fore agree­ing even to a cease­fire. The hard-line Tal­iban po­si­tion stems from their per­cep­tion that they are head­ing to­wards a mil­i­tary vic­tory in Afghanistan.

Fourthly, the fact that Mul­lah Man­soor was killed on Pak­istani soil fur­ther weak­ens Pak­istan’ stance that Afghan Tal­iban are not op­er­at­ing from Pak­istan. It was no­table that his death was im­me­di­ately con­firmed by the US, Kabul as well as by the Tal­iban them­selves. Our au­thor­i­ties took days to ac­cept the real­ity, per­haps hop­ing against hope that the news was in­cor­rect. Ear­lier, the Tal­iban founder Mul­lah Umar died in Pak­istan, sub­stan­ti­at­ing Kabul’s al­le­ga­tion that he had been hid­ing in Pak­istan. In 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in Ab­b­otabad. The Ad­viser for For­eign Af­fairs re­cently con­firmed the pres­ence of Afghan Tal­iban lead­ers in Pak­istan. Their con­tin­ued pres­ence in Pak­istan strength­ens the le­gal po­si­tion of the US in ar­gu­ing that it can use drones for the pur­pose of self-de­fence.

Fifthly, Pak­istan rightly ar­gues that drone at­tacks are a vi­o­la­tion of Pak­istan’s sovereignty, but is it also not a fact that Afghan Tal­iban and other mil­i­tants, who have found sanc­tu­ar­ies in Pak­istan, are vi­o­lat­ing Pak­istan’s sovereignty even more bla­tantly? This is the grave la­cuna in our le­gal po­si­tion which pre­vents Pak­istan from rais­ing the drone at­tacks is­sue at the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. If we do go to the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, coun­tries like the USA, and par­tic­u­larly Afghanistan and In­dia, would se­verely crit­i­cise Pak­istan for al­low­ing its soil to be used by mil­i­tants for armed at­tacks on other coun­tries. We will prob­a­bly find few coun­tries in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil who will stand up for Pak­istan.

Fi­nally, the way things are un­fold­ing, it seems that Pak­istan’s Afghan pol­icy is in tat­ters. In­dia is gain­ing more in­flu­ence in Afghanistan, as shown by Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s cur­rent visit to Afghanistan. Both the Afghan pub­lic and govern­ment seem un­friendly to­wards Pak­istan. Some of our plan­ners have long thought of Afghanistan as pro­vid­ing strate­gic depth to Pak­istan. Ac­tu­ally, it is not Afghanistan but our nu­clear de­ter­rent that pro­vides strate­gic se­cu­rity to Pak­istan. In any event, nei­ther un­der King Zahir Shah, nor later, have we ever had a friendly Afghan govern­ment. In par­tic­u­lar, our pol­icy of back­ing the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan’s in­ter­nal power strug­gle has been un­pro­duc­tive. Even the Tal­iban regime, whom we backed, was never lis­ten­ing to us, e.g. by ac­cept­ing the Du­rand Line as the fron­tier. But in the process, we have man­aged to an­tag­o­nise the nonPakhtuns, who are hold­ing power since 2001. This is an un­for­tu­nate de­vel­op­ment since we never had any is­sues his­tor­i­cally with Uzbeks, Ta­jiks or Hazaras, un­til the Afghan civil war in the 1990s. — The writer served as Pak­istan’s Am­bas­sador to Saudi Ara­bia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nige­ria and Libya.

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