Droned Out!

Few po­lit­i­cal forces have em­pha­sized on what Pak­istan should do to stop drone at­tacks.

Southasia - - REGION PAKISTAN - By Yaqoob Khan Ban­gash

The is­sue of drones has been an on-again off-again topic of dis­cus­sion in Pak­istan ever since the first drone strike hit the tribal belt in 2004. Un­til 2013, there had been over 369 strikes in Pak­istan. The es­ti­mated num­ber of sus­pected ter­ror­ists killed in these at­tacks was some­where be­tween 1600-2500 while there were over 300 con­firmed civil­ian deaths and sev­eral hun­dred ‘un­known’ deaths, ac­cord­ing to data col­lected by the Wash­ing­ton DCbased New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion.

In a coun­try be­set with ter­ror­ism, sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, the im­por­tance given to the ‘drone is­sue’ by po­lit­i­cal par­ties is in­deed sig­nif­i­cant, es­pe­cially since most peo­ple killed in these at­tacks are con­firmed ter­ror­ists. The num­ber of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties in drone at­tacks is quite low com­pared with deaths in Karachi in tar­get killings and sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence in a pe­riod of two months - not that there is any rel­a­tiv­ity in deaths, or that it is sim­ply a num­bers is­sue.

The re­cent ‘dharna’ by the Pak­istan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) against NATO sup­plies un­til drone strikes were dis­con­tin­ued has brought the is­sue to the fore again. Sev­eral po­lit­i­cal par­ties have voiced their op­po­si­tion to the strikes and the Na­tional As­sem­bly has passed var­i­ous res­o­lu­tions - the lat­est one on De­cem­ber 11, 2013 - af­firm­ing unan­i­mous op­po­si­tion to the strikes and de­mand­ing im­me­di­ate end to the at­tacks. But while there seems to be an al­most across-the­board op­po­si­tion in prin­ci­ple to drone strikes, sev­eral po­lit­i­cal par­ties seem to have a dif­fer­ent view, though in small print.

The Pak­istan Peo­ples Party (PPP), in power from 2008 to 2013, for ex­am­ple, only has a no­tional op­po­si­tion to drone strikes. So, when a PPP MPA from Bannu, Fakhar Azam Khan Wazir, re­leased ad­ver­tise­ments in news­pa­pers sup­port­ing the PTI dharna, the party im­me­di­ately is­sued a show cause no­tice to him for caus­ing ‘con­fu­sion in the party about its pol­icy line’. The no­tice, signed by Ad­di­tional Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Raza Rab­bani, stated that ‘the place­ment of these ads had led to a wholly er­ro­neous im­pres­sion that the call to block NATO sup­ply routes comes from the party’s lead­er­ship and is in ac­cor­dance with the party pol­icy.’ The PPP main­tained that while it op­posed drone strikes, stop­ping NATO sup­plies was a de­ci­sion for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment alone.

In con­trast, the PTI of Im­ran Khan sees block­ing of NATO sup­plies as a le­git­i­mate strat­egy to end drone at­tacks. In fact, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, Im­ran Khan has even blamed the preva­lence of ter­ror­ism on drone at­tacks. The dharna of the PTI and its al­lied par­ties continues in small doses but with­out the of­fi­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa gov­ern­ment.

Re­li­gious par­ties, the Ja­maat-eIs­lami (JI) and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-eIs­lam Fa­zlur Rah­man (JUI-F), have also un­equiv­o­cally op­posed drone strikes. Maulana Fa­zlur Rah­man has gone so far as to state that ‘any­one killed by the U.S. is a mar­tyr, even if it is a dog.’ These par­ties have fully sup­ported the sit-in of the PTI and have called for a com­plete end to drone at­tacks as well as any con­tacts with the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion.

On the gov­ern­ment side, there is an agree­ment on the op­po­si­tion to drone strikes, but a clear dif­fer­ence can be ob­served in tone among its mem­bers. The prime min­is­ter main­tains his

con­dem­na­tion of at­tacks and re­cently stated that he con­demns ‘these acts from the core of his heart’, but there is a clear dif­fer­ence of em­pha­sis among gov­ern­ment min­is­ters.

While the Prime Min­is­ter’s Ad­vi­sor on For­eign Af­fairs, Sar­taj Aziz, cau­tiously noted their ‘coun­ter­pro­duc­tive ef­fect and re­it­er­ated the call to the U.S. to re­view its pol­icy which has a neg­a­tive im­pact on the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to bring peace and sta­bil­ity in Pak­istan and the re­gion’, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, the In­te­rior Min­is­ter, noted af­ter the Hangu at­tack, “The United States does not want peace in Pak­istan... As the in­te­rior min­is­ter, I never trusted U.S. as­sur­ances as they have been telling me sev­eral sto­ries of ‘Alif Laila.’ Now, the time has come that we’ll have to choose be­tween dol­lars and hon­our.” Fur­ther, both the prime min­is­ter and the In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter, Pervez Rashid, have pub­li­cally called the PTI sit-ins coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, main­tain­ing di­a­logue to be the ‘only so­lu­tion’. This ap­par­ent con­fu­sion amidst the ranks of the gov­ern­ment has led the PTI to mock it sev­eral times.

Why do all ma­jor Pak­istani po­lit­i­cal par­ties agree on their op­po­si­tion to drone at­tacks but dis­agree on a strat­egy to deal with them?

Firstly, all po­lit­i­cal par­ties know that drone at­tacks do Pak­istan’s dirty work to a great ex­tent. The re­port of the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group suc­cinctly de­scribed the at­ti­tude of Pak­istan to­wards drones. It notes: “Pak­istan’s at­ti­tude to­wards drones bor­ders on the schiz­o­phrenic. Rather than in­her­ently op­pos­ing the strikes, its lead­er­ship, in par­tic­u­lar its mil­i­tary, seeks greater con­trol over tar­get se­lec­tion.” Pak­istani po­lit­i­cal par­ties, es­pe­cially its mil­i­tary, know that a ma­jor­ity of those killed in drone strikes are the ene­mies of Pak­istan and that their elim­i­na­tion in fact helps Pak­istan tackle its ter­ror­ism prob­lem.

Se­condly, a close look re­veals that the PPP and the PML-N pri­mar­ily op­pose the ‘ef­fect’ of drone strikes, and do not op­pose their tac­ti­cal use. The op­po­si­tion whipped up by some par­ties and rightwing or­ga­ni­za­tions and the im­pe­tus such at­tacks sup­pos­edly give to ter­ror­ists, are the ef­fects these par­ties term as coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. As they have been in gov­ern­ment, they know the im­por­tance of drone at­tacks in elim­i­nat­ing Pak­istan’s ene­mies.

For the PTI, op­po­si­tion to drone at­tacks is quite sim­ply a tac­tic to move at­ten­tion away from its abysmal per­for­mance in the only prov­ince where it rules. It needs a di­ver­gence, and the drone is­sue of­fers a very sound de­vi­a­tion strat­egy - just like the Kash­mir is­sue did in the past. Jin­go­is­tic state­ments by the lead­ers of the PTI clearly show that sit-ins are merely for po­lit­i­cal mileage. For re­li­gious par­ties, fo­ment­ing anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment is al­ways the main­stay of their sup­port and there­fore fan­ning it only im­proves their in­flu­ence and hold. In the past too, re­li­gious par­ties suc­cess­fully used and chan­nelled anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment to come into power.

Both the cur­rent and pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments have also voiced their op­po­si­tion to drone strikes in the UN. As a re­sult, the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly passed a res­o­lu­tion on De­cem­ber 18, 2013, in re­sponse to the re­port of the UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on the pro­mo­tion and pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights and fun­da­men­tal free­doms while coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism. The re­port states: “There is strong ev­i­dence to sug­gest that be­tween June 2004 and June 2008 re­motely pi­loted air­craft strikes in FATA were con­ducted with the ac­tive con­sent and ap­proval of se­nior mem­bers of the Pak­istani mil­i­tary... On 12 April 2012, how­ever, both houses of the par­lia­ment unan­i­mously adopted guide­lines for re­vised terms of en­gage­ment with the U.S., NATO and ISAF... Since the May 2013 elec­tions, the Spe­cial Rap­por­teur has been in­formed by the new Ad­min­is­tra­tion that it adopts the same po­si­tion as its pre­de­ces­sor: drone strikes are coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, con­trary to in­ter­na­tional law, a vi­o­la­tion of Pak­istani sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, and should cease im­me­di­ately.”

The Rap­por­teur, how­ever, iden­ti­fied ‘a num­ber of le­gal ques­tions on which there is cur­rently no clear in­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus.’ In­ter­na­tional laws re­lat­ing to drones are un­clear. Sim­i­larly, Pak­istan’s claim that ‘it suc­cess­fully co­or­di­nated with like­minded states to in­clude ref­er­ences to the use of drones in the res­o­lu­tion,’ is also self-con­grat­u­la­tory as the res­o­lu­tion does not state any­thing new and was bound to re­fer to them since the re­port was mainly about drone strikes. The ex­cite­ment the res­o­lu­tion gen­er­ated in Pak­istan (mainly be­cause of the Pak­istani news me­dia) was also mis­lead­ing since it used terms which sug­gested that this res­o­lu­tion was more than the scores of well-mean­ing, yet non-en­force­able, res­o­lu­tions of the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

Very few po­lit­i­cal forces have em­pha­sized on what Pak­istan should do to stem drone at­tacks in the long run. The In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group re­port rec­om­mended, rightly, that ‘the core of any Pak­istani coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy in this area should be to in­cor­po­rate FATA into the coun­try’s le­gal and con­sti­tu­tional main­stream. This should be ac­com­pa­nied by a na­tional coun­tert­er­ror­ism pol­icy that pri­or­i­tizes the mod­ern­iza­tion of a fail­ing crim­i­nal jus­tice sec­tor, thus en­abling the state to bring vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists to jus­tice.’

Un­less ac­tual con­di­tions on the ground change for the peo­ple of FATA, sup­port for ex­trem­ist and ter­ror­ist groups will not end. Drones will con­tinue to strike and po­lit­i­cal par­ties will keep us­ing this is­sue for po­lit­i­cal point scor­ing.

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