Constructive Conflict Engagement: Ending Drone Attacks!

By Dr. Haider Mehdi

Political management experts and foreign policy managers all over the world are in unanimous agreement that sheer public diplomacy rhetoric, seductively charged hope and selectively tall public statements by a political leadership do not resolve the serious foreign policy problematics of a nation.  In reality, determined actions, sound and explicitly laid-out policies, clearly defined policy objectives, a nationalistic vision and a realistic appreciation of global political realities of what is possible and what is not probable in the contemporary global political system are the factors that determine the foreign policy discourse of a nation and the resolutions of its complex foreign relations issues.

Indeed, “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has categorically said that the dual policy on drones will not be pursued anymore and the US will have to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan” (as reported in The Nation of June 10th) is a commendable view of a fresh foreign policy initiative by the new Sharif regime.  But the fundamental question is: Is Islamabad well-prepared and fully equipped with explicit policy directions and plans to put the Prime Minister’s initiative into a formidable set of political actions to achieve its objectives?

A common English proverb states that actions speak louder than words: Hence, it is expected of Islamabad to explain how it is going to implement its stated policy objectives and how it is planning to bring the Obama administration into agreement with the Pakistani Prime Minister’s demands. What is going to be Islamabad’s modus operandi to effectively press Washington for a policy shift in its nearly decade-old policy of drone strikes?  Why would the Obama administration suddenly negotiate its highly valued and consistently pursued drone strike military policy as demanded by the new Pakistani Prime Minister? What political or military leverage can Islamabad exert on Washington to stop its drone attacks on Pakistani territories?  These are all formidable policy issues that need to be fully analyzed, rationally understood and politically managed.  These are not abstract matters; they are real-time complex, and difficult issues of a nation that involve dealing with a most powerful adversary whose political behavior so far has been omnipotent and unilateral in its conduct vis-à-vis a Pakistani leadership who has been complacent to American demands.

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From a reflective viewpoint, let me ask Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, for that matter the entire Pakistani nation, a hypothetical question: “[What] if the Pakistanis were terrorizing Texas [USA] with Predator drones, [wouldn’t you] expect Obama to send the US Air Force into immediate action?” Obviously, he would, as “No government can legitimately authorize the murder of its own citizens” and thus the Air Force would shoot down the Pakistani drones.  sn’t that true?

The above question was initially raised by Clive Stafford Smith, the renowned humanitarian political activist, in a recent article TIME TO RISE UP AGAINST DRONES. Smith opined that the US is engaged in anti-humanitarian warfare against Pakistan (Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and wherever else it employs drones).  In addition, Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan of the Pakistani High Court in Peshawar has said in his landmark ruling that, because drone attacks are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, “The government of Pakistan shall make a request to the UN Secretary General to constitute an independent war crime tribunal to direct the US authorities to immediately stop the drone strikes…and to immediately arrange for the complete and full compensation for the victims’ families.”

The logic of my reiterating Smith’s question is not to suggest that Nawaz Sharif’s government should immediately go into an urgent military defensive against the US and turn the present American camouflaged low-intensity warfare (hidden under the “war on terrorism” pretext) against Pakistan into a full-fledged conflict between the two nations. But Pakistan needs to go into an imperative diplomatic defensive to alter the Obama Administration’s political behavior towards Pakistan and the US President’s stance on drone strikes on Pakistani territory.

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Understandably, it is a very complex process and a most difficult task.  I propose that my recently formulated foreign policy doctrine “Constructive Conflict Engagement” is a viable strategic approach to engage with the US on the said issue.

My doctrine is based on three fundamental concepts:

1) The word Conflict postulates an absolute unambiguous acknowledgement on the part of the incumbent regime in Islamabad that low intensity aerial warfare and domestic covert activities have existed against Pakistan for years at the hands of the US military and political establishment.  This perceptual factuality must be conveyed to Washington in equally absolutely unambiguous terms. The Obama administration should also be told that a continuation of this state of affairs can and will have monumental future destructive consequences for both players.

2) Constructive refers to the willingness of one player, that is, Pakistan, to immediately engage in diplomatic negotiations to visit the problematic in view of new political realities emerging in Pakistan of June 2013. The US must be told that today’s Pakistan is a different nation; vibrant electronic and print media is the 5th pillar of the state.  Increased political consciousness and awareness of national issues by Pakistani citizens have added an energetic variable into Pakistan’s polity.  The incumbent Sharif regime in Islamabad simply cannot talk from both sides of the mouth. The US needs to be told that secretive, evasive and deceptive diplomacy is no longer possible in an emerging democratic Pakistan as it had been historically in several previous civilian-military eras.  The US must be told that it has to respect the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people.

3) Engagement in this doctrine is the process of actual policy formulation and its determined implementation. Let us start, for instance, with a fresh Pakistan-US foreign policy initiative by doing the following:

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a) Constitute a team of experts who are knowledgeable of American political behavior and its political-military history and who have unsurpassed linguistic, articulation and communicative skills to engage American political-military leadership on the basis of equality to set forth a new political discourse for Pak-US relations in which the US’s legitimate interests would be guaranteed and fully ensured.

b) Mobilize massive public support for anti-drone demonstrations all over the country.  These demonstrations would convey to the Americans that the Pakistani masses and the incumbent political regime in Pakistan are on the same page.  Imran Khan’s role in organizing this kind of public movement is highly imperative.

c) Let us quickly move the matter to the International Court of Justice, the UN Human Rights Commission, and the UN General Assembly and initiate a massive diplomatic initiative on crisis management scales.

d) Let us take the matter to Pakistan’s superior judiciary and have court rulings that state drone attacks on Pakistani territory are unlawful and constitutionally violate Pakistan’s sovereignty (as has been done in the Peshawar High Court).

e) And to enforce those Pakistani Court rulings, let Islamabad make a statement of intent.  Let us decide on a deadline: failure to ensure the cessation of drone strikes on Pakistan’s territory past a deadline would result in complete blocking of American supply routes to Afghanistan through Pakistan.  This blockade would be enforced by regular troops of Pakistan’s army and supported by Pakistani Air Force airborne units.

If we believe there is a solution, we will find one!

Let us be optimistic. After all, a mighty Superpower can be expected to act rationally in its international political behavior at times!

Post June 2013 Islamabad cannot allow the murder of its own citizens. Or can it?