The Drones Dilemma

In ad­di­tion to caus­ing great losses to the peo­ple of Pak­istan’s north­ern ar­eas, drone at­tacks have po­lar­ized and frag­mented tribal so­ci­ety.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Rus­tam Shah Mohmand

The cat­a­clysmic at­tacks of Septem­ber 2001 on New York’s World Trade Cen­ter brought about a fun­da­men­tal change in at­ti­tudes and a trans­for­ma­tion of po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tives. To what ex­tent were the new doc­trines – such as ei­ther you are with us or against us – or­ches­trated to ac­com­plish pre-de­signed goals would be a topic for de­bate for a long time to come. But one thing is undis­putable: the iden­tity of the at­tack­ers – their train­ing in the U.S. on a crash-pro­gram ba­sis, their abil­ity to go past the con­trols loaded with the needed equip­ment, their board­ing four dif­fer­ent air­craft at the same time and their be­ing able to take over con­trol so swiftly and make all the required me­chan­i­cal ad­just­ments for speed, al­ti­tude, an­gle, di­rec­tion, etc. and strike the Twin Tow­ers with such pre­ci­sion – would re­main a mys­tery.

Such was the level of panic and fear that on the even­ing of the day the at­tacks took place, the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion iden­ti­fied the cul­prits and named Osama bin Laden the prin­ci­pal spon­sor of the group that took part in the at­tacks. No time was lost in con­vey­ing to Pak­istan some con­di­tions which had to be com­plied with. The drones came when Pak­istan be­gan to bat­tle an in­sur­gency in its tribal ar­eas which was the di­rect out­come of Gen. Mushar­raf’s de­ci­sion to send the mil­i­tary deep into those ar­eas to ‘block’ the en­try of the Tal­iban into Pak­istan and also to demon­strate to the U.S. that Pak­istan was ‘sin­cerely’ ex­e­cut­ing a pol­icy that aimed to pro­tect U.S. in­ter­ests in the area – al­beit at an enor­mous cost to its own sta­bil­ity.

There were re­ports of some prom­i­nent pro-Tal­iban ac­tivists pour­ing into the tribal ar­eas who had the po­ten­tial of caus­ing harm to the coali­tion forces fight­ing in Afghanistan. Th­ese mil­i­tants had to be taken out. Rather than re­ly­ing on Pak­istan to elim­i­nate the mil­i­tants, the Amer­i­cans wanted to hit them with pre­ci­sion drones op­er­ated from U.S. bases. Whether there was any for­mal agree­ment (of which there is no ev­i­dence) or a tacit un­der­stand­ing between the mil­i­tary ruler and the Pen­tagon is not clear. The at­tacks be­gan in 2004 and have con­tin­ued well into 2014.

It was June 2004 – ex­actly ten years ago – when Nek Mo­ham­mad, a tribal mil­i­tant of South Waziris­tan was speak­ing to a re­porter through a satel­lite phone from in­side his mud com­pound. He heard the noise of the me­tal­lic bird hov­er­ing above him. A few hours later, the mis­sile fired by the drone struck and tore through the com­pound, killing Mo­ham­mad and sev­eral oth­ers. A Pak­istani mil­i­tary spokesman im­me­di­ately ‘ac­cepted’ re­spon­si­bil­ity – and that was to be the norm for a long time: ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity so that public anger against the U.S. does not mount!

Slowly and grad­u­ally, drones be­came a per­ma­nent fea­ture of U.S. pol­icy in this part of the world. The strikes also be­came a part of the Pak­istani con­scious­ness and ac­cept­abil­ity fol­lowed.

Drone strikes into an­other coun­try are clearly a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law and in­con­sis­tent with the UN Char­ter. From time to time, voices have been raised against the bru­tal­ity and il­le­gal­ity of drone strikes. The U.S. jus­ti­fies the pol­icy, claim­ing that it takes out ‘en­emy com­bat­ants’ with no loss of lives to its troops. Be­cause de­ten­tions and out­sourc­ing of in­ter­ro­ga­tion brought a bad name to the U.S., there was a pol­icy shift which en­vis­aged the elim­i­na­tion of sus­pects. Thus the role of the CIA changed from be­ing an es­pi­onage net­work to a para­mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tion that op­er­ates to elim­i­nate po­ten­tial op­po­nents and hos­tile in­di­vid­u­als or groups. Many Third World coun­tries would em­u­late this ex­am­ple for years to come.

Over the past ten years, drones have been used in Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas to kill sus­pected mil­i­tants. The at­tacks reached their peak in 200708 and then fol­lowed a down­ward tra­jec­tory. Dur­ing the hun­dreds of at­tacks car­ried out, about 80 prom­i­nent tribal and for­eign mil­i­tants have been killed along with more than 400 of their fol­low­ers. That is one side of the pic­ture. More than 3000 civil­ians have also been killed and hun­dreds se­ri­ously wounded while many were dis­abled for life. The civil­ian toll in­cludes women and chil­dren which com­prises school-go­ing boys and girls as well as aged men and women. The at­tacks have also dec­i­mated houses, mar­kets, school build­ings and other

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