By the time this article appears in print, a lot of ink would already have been spilt on the folly of ‘our’ duplicitous drone policy. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know for certain that the army has allowed the Americans to fly their unmanned drones in designated zones of operation. But did we really need the latest tranche of leaked American diplomatic cables to tell us that the army was in on the drone attacks, or that it thinks that the drones are effective in targeting militants?
The ISPR can issue denials but anyone with some knowledge of how Pakistan works, knows that the army had to have known. Besides, in April of this year, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 7th Division, North Waziristan, Major-General Ghayur Mehmood, in fact, praised the drones as precision weapons that mostly kill ‘hardcore Taliban or al Qaeda elements, especially foreigners’. This was followed by another ISPR denial: The general’s statement was his own personal opinion, which didn’t gel well with the fact that it is unlikely for officers in such a disciplined force to be speaking their mind in public.
The real revelation is that, in January 2008, the army chief actually asked the Americans for drone coverage of the conflict zone in South Waziristan. So what is all this nonsense about shooting the drones down? Yet even all that bravado comes with a proviso, if only the ‘government’ orders us. Right, we all know that the military takes all its orders from the civilian government. All this, and the recent dog-and-pony show in parliament over the killing of OBL, are all part of a strategy to evade scrutiny and throw the ball back, squarely, in the court of the PPP-led government.
But all this dangerous deception on the drones only befuddles and further inflames public opinion against the United States. Why and how can the military expect to have its cake and eat it too? The ‘why’ is bad enough: It wants to preserve its methodically-cultivated public image as the invincible guardian of our security, but it also needs US military assistance to fight the ‘bad’ Taliban, as well as to fortify God’s last standing bulwark against the evil Hindus to our east.
The ‘how’ is more odious, a conspiracy of silence that makes it possible for the military to dodge and deflect bullets. Day in, and day out, the majority of our — holier-than-thou — TV anchors and their rightwing guests roast their favourite local straw men, the spineless PPP leadership, for publicly denouncing the drones while privately endorsing them. Knowing full well that neither the prime minister nor the president has any authority over who flies in and out of Pakistani airspace, they continue to shed crocodile tears over exaggerated civilian casualty figures. Of course, even one innocent civilian life lost is one too many. But how are civilian deaths by GHQ-sanctioned CIA drones, any worse than those caused directly by the Pakistani military’s aerial and artillery fire in Fata operations? Yet, we hear nothing of this ‘indigenous’ collateral damage?
Instead, what we get is the patriotic scoundrel defence. Enemies on all sides surround Pakistan; hence, questioning those who protect us with their lives is equal to treason. But why is Pakistan under attack in the first place? Why do the world’s most dangerous terrorists find easy shelter here? Why is almost every terrorist attack, in the world, traced back to its soil? Why does Pakistan proliferate nuclear weapons to pariah regimes? We pay the generals billions out of our dwindling resources, but they don’t owe us any explanations. We should instead focus on our corrupt civilian leadership who play politics with our ‘institutions’ to appease their Yankee patrons. But consider this: “Admiral Mullen… visited General Kayani’s house for a private dinner on March 3, 2008. Kayani began a thorough explanation of the political situation including an analysis of the ongoing negotiations over the make-up of the incoming government and a description of the major political players.”
What is more, US Special Forces have been conducting joint operations with Pakistani troops on our soil, at least, since September 2009. Talk about violations of our sovereignty.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2011.