While US President Obama and his hawkish associates term the use of drones strikes against the suspected militants in Pakistan as “very successful”, it is drawing strong reaction against Americans throughout in Pakistan because the drones kill hundreds of innocent civilians along with few militants. The two top US visiting officials, Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, and Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, defended the barrage of increasing US predator strikes inside FATA. Pakistan has repeatedly protested these attacks due to three reasons:
- Infringement on the sovereignty.
- Collateral damage and civilian casualties including women and children, which has further angered the Pakistan government and people.
- Undermining the domestic support for the war against the militants.
The two US Lawmakers revealed the “open secret” by acknowledging the existence of differences between the two countries over the use of drones. On the other hand, they appreciated the commitment of the Pakistan military in the fight against terrorists, while describing Pakistan as “important strategic partner in the war on terrorism”.
A US delegation visited Pakistan on Jan 10, 2010, led by Senator Carl Levin, chairman of Armed Services Committee, also praised Pakistan’s critical and vital role as the front line state against terrorism and lauded the remarkable successes achieved by the Pakistan’s armed forces in Malakand and South Waziristan. Now, these statements may be seen in conjunction with the frequent criticism emanating from Washington, i. e., Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) having complicity with the Taliban and casting doubts about Pakistan’s sincerity in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban element in the tribal region. It is noteworthy to mention that the war against terrorism has cost more than 35 billion dollars since 9/11, beside sacrificing 1,200 military men in this mission. (No other country of the world has made more sacrifices than Pakistan).
The barrage of increasing drone attacks is generally referred as a "drone war". According to the Wikipedia, a total of 85 attacks have been conducted till January 10, 2010). In a report titled “Pakistan Security Report 2009” released by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), the overall casualties amount to 12,632 people dead and 12,815 injured in the war on terror during the year 2009. (This includes the casualties in terrorist attacks, operational attacks by the security forces and their clashes with the militants, inter-tribal clashes and the cross-border attacks of the US and NATO forces in FATA). The success percentage of the US predator strikes is calculated to not more than six per cent. Most of these attacks were carried out on the basis of intelligence believed to have been provided by the tribesmen on the both sides of the border. Many drone attacks went wrong due to faulty intelligence information, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children.
American viewpoint is that the drone attacks are a critical element of US strategy that deny the terrorists who are terrorizing the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan and America. Top US officials consider these strikes very successful and believe that the senior al-Qaeda leadership has been decimated by these strikes. US officials stated in March 2009 that the Predator strikes had killed nine of al-Qaeda’s 20 top commanders, resulting in the fleeing of remnant Taliban leadership to Quetta. Based on this intelligence intercepts, President Obama is considering expanding drone attacks to include Quetta, Balochistan. Senior US officials are also pushing Obama for extending the strikes into Quetta in Balochistan against the “Quetta Shura”. Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, reiterated that the US intended to continue the drone attacks.
In December 2009 expansion of the drone attacks was authorized by President Barack Obama to support 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad on January 7, 2010 Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman stated the drone attacks were effective and would continue till the rooting out of Taliban from the area.
General David Petraeus, who oversees America’s war efforts in the Pakistan-Afghan region, has acknowledged during a briefing on Jan 7, 2010, that there has been an increase in drone attacks at suspected militant targets inside FATA since the a suicide bomber associated with al Qaeda exploded a bomb inside a US base, killing seven CIA employees in Khost on Dec 30. Gen David Petraeus alleged that the suicide bomber had links with the leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Hakimullah Mehsud.
Drone attacks are a politically charged issue between the United States and Pakistan. Pakistan’s viewpoint on the drones is that the attacks are continuing, despite repeated requests made by Pakistan’s top leadership. TTP leadership while claiming responsibility for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, storming of Marriott Hotel, attacking a visiting Sri Lankan cricket team, assaulting a Police Academy Manawan, Qasim Bela Multan, Moon Market Lahore, Parade lane shooting spree, Peepal Mandi market Peshawar, stated that it was in retaliation for the drone attacks. The alarming intensification in the drone attacks is forcing the moderate element to join the ranks of radicals to avenge the deaths of their dear ones killed in the drone attacks. The drone attacks are a violation of Pakistan sovereignty, counter productive and not helpful in the effort to win hearts and minds of people.
Pakistan fears the strikes could undermine efforts to deal with militancy because the civilian casualties inflame public anger and bolster support for the fighters. On July 20, 2009, the Brookings Institution released a report stating that ten civilians died in the drone attacks for every militant killed, suggesting US to provide a long-term logistic & economic support to Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts. Some US politicians have also condemned the drone strikes. US CongressmanDennis Kucinich asserted that the United States was violating international law by carrying out strikes against a country that never attacked the United States. US military reports asserted that al-Qaeda is being slowly but systematically routed because of these attacks, and that they have served to sow the seeds of uncertainty and discord among their ranks. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sharply criticized the US tactics of using drones. The UNHRC report asserted that the US government has failed to keep track of civilian casualties of its military operations, including the drone attacks, and to provide means for citizens of affected nations to obtain information about the casualties and any legal inquests regarding them.
US President Barack Obama has offered “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009” that states that Pakistan is a critical friend and ally to the United States in combating terrorism and promoting the social and economic development of Pakistan. The National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones, clarified US policy by saying that "We can’t succeed without Pakistan, there is nobody who is under any illusions about this”. The most practical way to retain that cooperation is to reduce average Pakistanis’ distrust of America. That can be done by transferring drone technology to Pakistan security forces. There is no logic to keep drones technology classified and secret. President Zardari has requested that Pakistan be given control over the drones but this has been rejected by the US who is worried that Pakistanis will leak information about targets to militants. If the American government insists on our true cooperation, then they should also be helping us in fighting those terrorists with these effective weapons. There is a dire need for bridging the existing trust deficit between Pakistan and the United States in the interest of long-term “strategic partnership” between the two countries. That’s what is expected from a strategic partner.