By Humayun Gauhar
We only have Nawaz Sharif’s word that he talked to Barak Obama about ending drone strikes. So too claimed the ‘government’ before his. No result. Instead, drone strikes increased after 2008.
I suppose Sharif may have mentioned drones, like Obama mentioned ‘qeema’ and ‘daal’ – mincemeat and lentils – that he had learned to cook when he visited Pakistan, but neither drones nor qeema and daal found mention in the ‘Joint Statement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Obama’ and issued by the White House Office of the Press Secretary on October 23, 2013. I suppose too that Obama knew that nothing focuses Sharif’s mind like food does and he doesn’t need notes to discuss it. “He’s sound on food” Obama may have been told. Sharif should also have known Obama’s culinary preferences and brought qeema and daal along with the usual carpet or watch.
“Mud in your eye,” says America. “If you cannot get rid of the terrorists, we will. If there is collateral damage, bad luck. We have to look after our interests first, not yours.” The indirect US response via a leak published in ‘The Washington Post’ was that Pakistani governments have endorsed drone strikes, so what is the hullabaloo all about? It’s about fooling one’s public, Sir, that’s why. Actually, Nawaz reserved his bombast and fulminations about drones and ‘topplers’ of governments for Pakistani-American gatherings. “Those who topple governments should be punished,” fumed Nawaz. Quite, but he left the sentence unfinished: “…and those who create conditions that cause governments to be toppled should also be punished.” But that will put him in the cooler too.
We should learn that whatever decisions we take should be in our interest first, not anyone else’s. However, if our decision harms anyone else’s interests we should also be prepared for the response. If we cannot bear it then we perforce have to choose the lesser evil. And that is what we have been doing ever since 9/11. Shoot down a drone if you will and be prepared for the consequences but only if you have unity and the strength to bear it. Not only will our beggar’s bowl become empty, the bombing that could ensue would put drones in the shade. They wrongly claim that Musharraf caved in to a phone call from Colin Powell. I’ll tell you what. Reverse history. Put your money where your mouth is. Foreign minister Nawaz Sharif should phone John Kerry and tell him that “the deal is off, no more cooperation on the war on terror or else. Another drone and we will strike it down.” Then see the money go and the monkey dance. Words come cheap Sir; living up to them is more difficult.
Instead of eliminating our terrorists we give them recognition and legitimacy by calling them ‘stakeholders’ and offer talks from a position of weakness. We blame drone strikes as an excuse for our terrorism, forgetting that the terrorists have killed far more innocent Pakistanis, soldiers and police than drones strikes have. We forget that terrorism raised its ugly head on our land in the mid-Eighties. Suicide bombing, not an original tactic of our terrorists, manifested itself after 9/11. We forget that we are historically the third largest recipients of US money after Israel and Egypt. We forget that America is our largest export market and one of the largest investors in Pakistan. We forget how many scholarships they have given us. I can bet that if and when drone strikes stop terrorism will not only continue but could also increase because of emboldened terrorists wanting to implement their agenda of seizing the state and ceasing it by imposing their personal Sharia on it. I can bet that if US bailouts stop we will bite the dust faster than you can say “a penny for your thoughts, Sir” and our military will come to a grinding halt. The country will cease too in the absence of a coherent ideology from which correct strategies emanate.
Lacking any solid information from a credible source, this paper tried to put a gloss on it. The usual “diplomatic source” told it on the usual “condition of anonymity” that “a possible understanding on [an] end to drone strikes could emerge and the US authorities could agree to bring [a] halt to strikes in [the] Pakistani Tribal Areas by the end of 2014.” Focus on the words ‘possible’ and ‘could’. End of next year the drawdown should be complete and the US may stop drones strikes if they don’t need them. This beats any sailor’s yarn. And ‘agree’? We will make the US ‘agree’ on something, anything? When we start cooking delusions the smell creates delusions. No wonder the only interesting thing discussed in the meeting was food.
Stratfor’s Geo-Political Diary of October 25, 2013, ‘Problems Mount for Pakistan’s Leader’ seemed closer to the truth. “Thursday was a bad day for Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif was getting ready to return home from a trip to the United States, during which he failed to get Washington to even consider the issue of drone strikes in the country’s northwestern tribal badlands. On the same day, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of Pakistan’s archrival India, said that he is disappointed with his Pakistani counterpart for not doing enough to end the clashes between Pakistani and Indian forces along their disputed border in Kashmir. The Pakistani prime minister is thus coming home to more problems than he left behind.
“Within hours of Sharif’s Oct. 23 meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, where he ostensibly called for an end to drone strikes in his country, The Washington Post, citing leaked highly sensitive CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos, reported that Islamabad had been secretly endorsing the drone strikes. The leaks were designed not only as a rejoinder to Sharif’s demand but also in response to the Amnesty International report released a day before the meeting claiming that the airstrikes had led to many civilian deaths.
“Sharif…has long promised the Pakistani public that he will work toward bringing an end to the drone strikes. In fact, before leaving for the United States he explicitly said that he would raise the issue with Obama. That much he did…in the hopes that he would be able to show his constituents back home that he is honoring his commitment to bring an end to what a majority of Pakistanis believe is a violation of their national sovereignty.
“The Pakistani prime minister had hoped that Obama would respond with a statement to the effect that Washington would work with Islamabad to eventually get to a point where the United States would not have to conduct the strikes. Not only did Obama say nothing of the sort, the leak to The Washington Post was meant as a signal to Islamabad to back off from the issue. After all, if Islamabad has lost control of its territory to the extent that transnational jihadists have sanctuary, then Washington has to continue with the drone strikes, especially in a country in which the use of regular land and air forces is not in the American interest. The net effect is that the Sharif’s trip was a failure — in fact, the leak has further complicated U.S.-Pakistani relations. Focus on the phrase “…he ostensibly called for an end to drone strikes in his country.” ‘Ostensibly’, what?
The Joint Statement is the usual diplomatic gibberish. I have looked high and low for any mention of drones in it and found none. I will now look at it sideways and upside down too. I have to find Nawaz Sharif’s mention of drones and his request to end them. There’s nothing new in it except pious desires to turn old projects in the doldrums into work in progress. Apart from what is missing there’s nothing wrong in it, but there’s nothing in it to get exited about either. The only ‘success’ was that the meeting was held at all and we are talking. It says that the two leaders focused on the usual five things: law enforcement and counterterrorism; economics and finance; energy; security, strategic stability and non-proliferation; and the Defense Consultative Group. The Joint Statement “affirmed” that the two countries are committed to democracy, human rights, freedom, and respect for international law…” blah, blah, blah. Nawaz should be careful. Elections under western political systems are America’s post-Cold War weapon to put pliable, obedient governments in place as window dressing of ‘democracy’. If such a government goes off at a tangent that damages US interests, democracy is forgotten and it is mercilessly ‘Morsied’. They don’t even call the Egyptian military intervention a ‘coup’. A ‘correction’, perhaps?
When President Ayub Khan visited Washington in 1961, President and Mrs. Kennedy received him at Andrews Airbase, US military forces gave him an honour salute, the US public was at the airport waving Pakistani flags, and they drove off in the presidential limousine waving to people lined-up along both sides of the road. ‘Friends, not Masters’, what? Innocent abroad, Nawaz didn’t even get a family photo with Obama that he did with Clinton on the second try when he had gone to Washington to cave in on Kargil. Perhaps the second lady had gone shopping again. It’s a complex, complex world, Sir, and very, very cruel.