In recent weeks CIA-operated drone strikes have increased on Pakistan’s tribal areas, resulting in more civilian casualties than the targeted militants. Besides a perennial wave of these attacks, in one of the atrocious strikes, 18 missiles by the US eight spy planes killed 16 innocent people on February 2 at a village in North Waziristan raising the death toll to 31.
In the last three years, more than 800 innocent civilians, and only 20 Al-Qaeda commanders including top militant leader Baitullah Mehsud had been killed by these unmanned air vehicles, while death of Hakimullah Mehsud has also been confirmed by the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke.
Despite the protest of Pakistan’s civil and military leadership, and assurance of some US high officials, especially Richard Holbrooke so as to stop these drone attacks, this campaign has intensified under the Obama Administration. In this regard, the US defence budget for 2011 seeks more funds to enhance drone operations by 75 per cent. Chairman of the US JCS Admiral Mike Mullen stated that with this funding, we would increase the attacks by the unmanned Predators.
Islamabad has repeatedly said that strikes by the pilotless aircraft are likely to affect war against terrorism in the country, particularly the ongoing military operations which also include the most volatile tribal area of South Waziristan, but American policy makers do not bother for any internal backlash.
Notably, on January 22, 2010, The New York Times indicated: “the C.I.A. is expected to double its fleet of the latest Reaper aircraft—bigger, faster and more heavily armed than the present Predators…by extending these strikes to Balochistan.” The Times also realized that the drones undermined the larger war effort.
Nevertheless, a continued wave of drone strikes in the tribal areas and prospective attacks on Balochistan will bring about dire consequences for Pakistan and the US itself.
First of all, attacks by US spy planes are likely to sabotage successes achieved by the ongoing military operations in Swat, Buner and Dir where pocket, particularly in South Waziristan where these military actions have commenced in the recent. At this critical juncture, when Pakistan has been facing a perennial wave of suicide attacks, the drone strikes are causing panic among the dwellers. Inclusion of Balochistan will further deteriorate the situation due to internal backlash in whole of Pakistan, resulting in public protests-moderates will join the radicals. Such a blunder will further organise and increase the number of Pakistani Taliban as majority of the Pakhtoons are likely to join them. However, in that scenario, suicide attacks are likely to increase in our country. While resentment against America could be judged from the fact that in the recent weeks, two US drones were shot down by the tribesmen.
More significantly, air strikes in Balochistan will lead to sustained Taliban attacks on the NATO supply lines through the Chaman border in Balochistan province, while until now, attacks have mostly focused on the northern route running through the NWFP.
Besides, by playing a double game with Islamabad, under the pretext of Talibanisation and lawlessness, America may also demand to send NATO troops in Pakistan, alleging that nuclear weapons are hpw not safe there. In that situation, even our armed forces will be compelled to stop military operations, while the democratic regime will be forced to leave the US war against terrorism.
In the recent past, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Quereshi has pointed out that trust deficit exists” in Pak-US ties, while Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani stated on February 3 that Pakistan and the US had “different long term goal” in Afghanistan. Recently, during the NATO meeting at Brussels Kayani also indicated internal backlash, raising Islmabad’s concerns over drone strikes.
Nevertheless, a continued wave of missile attacks on FATA and Balochistan will certainly result in more unity among the elected government, security forces and the general masses, consequently massive hostility towards Americans. In that situation, the US policy of liberalism and democracy could badly fail, giving a greater incentive to the fundamentalist and extremist elements in our country.
If Washington isolates Pakistan through sanctions, such an act will also cause drastic impact on the US war against terrorism, not only in our country but also in Afghanistan where US-led NATO forces are already facing defeatism, damaging their regional and global interests. This action is likely to undermine international efforts of stability both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is mentionable that France, Germany, Canada and Australia are reluctant to maintain their troops in Afghanistan for a long time because of casualties and insecurity, while Holland has announced to withdraw its forces this year. Frustrated in Afghanistan—in case of targeting Pakistan’s regions beyond Waziristan, most of the American allies could leave the US war on terror, and leading to a greater rift between the US and other NATO members.
America must realise that in case of widening the course of drone strikes coupled with any full-fledged NATO military action on our soil, both Iran and Pakistan might stand together to frustrate the US strategic designs. Moreover, their alliance with Syria would make the matter worse for Washington. In that scenario, a vast region from Pakistan to Somalia will further be radicalized, bringing about more terrorism against the Americans. However, in these adverse circumstances, American worldwide interests are likely to be jeopardised in these countries including whole of the Middle East where the US has already failed in coping with the Islamic militants directly or indirectly.
These negative developments will further reduce the US bargaining leverage on hostile small countries. In this context, determination of Iran and North Korea to continue their nuclear programme, Syrian stand for Palestinian cause and refusal of the Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez to yield to the US pressure in relation to oil supply might be cited as an example.
After fighting a different war for more than eight years, American cost of war which has already reached approximately 6 trillion dollars will further increase—decline of dollar and acute recession inside the country are likely to give a greater blow to the US economy vis-à-vis other developed countries. Intensity of these problems will lead the United States towards downfall. In this context, disintegration of the British Empire and the former Soviet Union offers a drastic lesson to Washington. Now, either by continuing its drone strikes or by including Balochistan in its strategy, America is likely to face the same fate.
Sajjad Shaukat writes regularly for Opinion Maker on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations.