Declining Pak – US relations: the drone dimension
August 26, 2011
Relations between Washington and Islamabad have seldom faced such crisis as at present. Efforts to overcome the trust deficit and establish a strong partnership and strategic relationship have over the last two years failed to generate the requisite confidence and convergence of interests. Diplomatic efforts continue but without much hope.
No other US policy has hurt the mutual interest and objectives than the reckless use of drone attacks by the CIA in the northern region of Pakistan in the name of targeting high value Al Qaeda targets. Not only that these attacks have invited public wrath, but also serious protests from the government. Such indifference on a sensitive issue by the US has fuelled anti-US sentiments and relationships sound more adversarial than a partnership. If the US is genuine and sincere in establishing a long and enduring partnership with Pakistan after the guns have been silenced” in the words of President Obama, it must in earnest heed the advice of Admiral Dennis Blair: “If we are ever to reduce Al Qaeda from a threat to a nuisance it will be by working with Pakistan not by continuing unilateral drone attacks
The US administration has almost resigned to the existing relationship and is not looking beyond. At a recent discussion at the US National Defence University in Washington, Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Panetta articulated this realism, nay cynicism, stating that the US has no choice but to keep its alliance with Pakistan.
During the discussion, both leaders were asked to evaluate America’s relationship with Pakistan to determine if it’s a foe or a friend. “What makes this (partnership with Pakistan) complicated is that they have relationships with the Haqqanis and the Haqqani tribes are going across the border and attacking our forces in Afghanistan and it is pretty clear that there is a relationship there”. “And yet there is no choice but to maintain this relationship with Pakistan,” he said. Why? Because we are fighting a war there. Because we are fighting Al Qaeda there and they do give us some cooperation in that effort.”
The US, he added, needs to maintain this relationship also because “the (Pakistanis) do represent an important force in the region. Because they do happen to be a nuclear power that has nuclear weapons and we have to be concerned about what happens with those nuclear weapons.” So for all those reasons, said Mr Panetta, we have got to maintain a relationship with Pakistan. And it’s going to be complicated; it’s going to be ups and downs.”
Secretary Clinton was equally frank and plaintive. “They are partners but they don’t always see the world the way we see the world”. They don’t always cooperate with us on what we think – and I will be very blunt about this –is in their interest.” Clinton insisted that what the Americans were asking to do in Pakistan was in their interest as well. It’s not like we are coming to Pakistan and encouraging them to do things that will be bad for Pakistan. But they often don’t follow what our logic is as we make those cases to them.” She said. “So it takes a lot of dialogue.”
Asked how to enhance the US relationship with Pakistan, Secretary Clinton made it clear that the US considered its relationship with Pakistan to be of “paramount importance.” “We think it is very much in America’s interest; we think it in the long term interest of Pakistan for us to work together through what are very difficult problems in that relationship”.
While these statements reflect the despair at the “very difficult problems in the relationship”, regrettably the US administration refuses to see beyond its narrow strategic interest and has totally ignored the deep sensitivity and extreme concern that Pakistanis as a nation feel at the humiliating onslaught on their sovereignty by drone attacks that not only cause injuries to innocent civilians but also hurt the national pride and dignity each time Pakistan’s sovereignty is violated.
No other US policy has hurt the mutual interest and objectives than the reckless use of drone attacks by the CIA in the northern region of Pakistan in the name of targeting high value Al Qaeda targets. Not only that these attacks have invited public wrath, but also serious protests from the government. Such indifference on a sensitive issue by the US has fuelled anti-US sentiments and relationships sound more adversarial than a partnership.
Dennis Blair, former director of the National Security Agency, in a recent op-ed in the New York Times has bluntly acknowledged: “In Pakistan no issue is more controversial than the American drone attacks in Pakistani territory along the Afghan border. The Obama administration contends that using drones to kill 10 to 20 more Al Qaeda leaders would eliminate the organization. This is a wishful thinking.
“Drone attacks are no longer the most effective strategy for eliminating Al Qaeda’s ability to attack us. But the important question today is whether continued unilateral drone attacks will substantially reduce Al Qaeda’ capabilities. Instead, we must work with Pakistan’s government as an equal partner to achieve our common goals while ensuring that the country does not remain a refuge to Taliban fighters. US officials may praise the precision of the drone attacks but in Pakistan media accounts of heavy civilian casualties are widely believed. Our reliance on high-tech strikes that pose no risk to our soldiers is bitterly resented in a country that cannot duplicate such feats of warfare without cost to its own troops.”
A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at City University in London tells a different story. Its says most of the 1,842 people killed in more than 230 drone strikes ordered by President Obama in Pakistan since 2008 were militants but at least 218 may have been civilians. And while civilian casualties do seem to have declined in the past year, the bureau still found credible evidence of at least 45 non-combatants killed. The fundamental reassessment of US drone strikes has revealed there have been many more CIA attacks on alleged militant targets than previously reported. At least 291 US drone strikes are known to have taken place since 2004. The bureau analysis also reveals that at least 2,292 people are credibly reported to have died. Some 40% more deaths than generally claimed.
The CIA claims that since May 2010 drones have killed more than 600 militants in Pakistan and not a single non-combatant has been killed. The statistics given in the report give a lie to CIA claims that even the US media found hard to believe. The IHT in an editorial comment on August 15th has rightly castigated the CIA claim stating that “the claim fuels skepticism about American intentions and harm US-Pak relations”.
The paper further noted: “Strikes have long been controversial in Pakistan fueling anti-American sentiments. Washington refuses to be more transparent about the program that is counterproductive. It should provide as much detail as possible including civilian casualties. Pakistan’s government needs to end its duplicity: privately allow strikes yet publicly condemn them.”
If the US is genuine and sincere in establishing a long and enduring partnership with Pakistan “after the guns have been silenced” in the words of President Obama it must in earnest heed the advice of Admiral Dennis Blair: “If we are ever to reduce Al Qaeda from a threat to a nuisance it will be by working with Pakistan not by continuing unilateral drone attacks”.