Drone attack on Mullah Mansoor
Email:firstname.lastname@example.org 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.