It is an easy question whether or not to condemn indiscriminate killing machines. Drones are mechanical remote weapons of destruction and are thus very difficult for anyone to like; as a general principle. “Indiscriminate” is the operative word here; a primary opposition to the use of drones is or should be on the fact that they do not make an effective distinction between a militant and an innocent civilians. The Taliban, on the other hand, are not ‘indiscriminate’. The attack on schools, funerals, shrines and hospital emergency wards cannot be explained by an intention to inflict random violence. They, in fact, not only discriminate but very meticulously plan and choose the most vulnerable targets which in most cases are all innocent civilians.
It is always tedious to draw moral equivalences between two offences. However, unfortunately, this is the situation that we find ourselves in. It is not only the numbers, although it might also be instructive to look up the number of civilian causalities caused by terrorist attacks and by drones. One major argument advanced by Mr Imran Khan and those participating in his “peace march” is the breach of our sovereignty by drone attacks. While this is a completely defendable argument, Mr Khan has sought and successfully received the permission of the Taliban to continue with his excursion. Let me belabour the implications of this; Mr Khan does not believe that the Pakistani state has enough control over the area to apply for permission or to ask for a no-objection certificate from the state and had to approach the Taliban for their lofty go-ahead. This makes the question of sovereignty rather problematic. The United States, Mr Khan and the Taliban are in rare agreement on one point here; that we do not have any sovereignty to lose in the Tribal Areas.
To show solidarity with the civilian victims of drone attacks is admirable and Mr Khan would have had a lot more support had he not asked for — or if given unsolicited, had strongly and publicly refused — the offer of protection from the militants. That would have been courageous; otherwise, he will go as their representative or, at best, an invitee of the militants. And that would be setting a very dangerous precedent. With one political gimmick, Mr Khan would have acknowledged the Taliban as not only a legitimate negotiating party but also conceded their control over the Tribal Areas. It is not just poor politics; it would mean elevating their ideology of murder to the mainstream. I hope the fairly recent YouTube clips of the TTP beheading our soldiers have not been erased from our collective memories. To ask for assurances from the TTP for a “peace march” would be a new low, worse than the Swat peace deal. There is no “peace” in capitulation in the face of an elementary challenge.
Drone attacks are arguably illegal; however, the fantastic inductive leap which seeks to absolve the TTP of the murder and destruction on the basis of drone attacks is inarguably immoral. The militants represent an ideology of nihilism, which existed before drone attacks began and will continue long after they have ceased. There is no justification for the present arrangement of drone attacks to continue; however, it is certainly not an excuse for trying to rationalise terrorism. If one has to be fussy about causation, then let me go for high stakes and say this: drone attacks began and continue because of the ideology of murder and not the other way around. Pandering to the militants and being an apologist ensures that both suicide fanatics and drone attacks continue, perhaps up to a point of no return.
One ignored aspect of this talk of a “Peace March” is the insult to the innocents who died as collateral damage to drone attacks. Mr Khan and other anti-drone activists lump them together with terrorists because of whom the strikes had to be carried out and there was “collateral” damage in the first place. It is further compounded by the contemptuous and contemptible assumption that the TTP represent the people of Waziristan.
The federal government has repeatedly issued very strong statements against drone attacks. Let us not pretend now that the federal government is in charge of foreign policy in general, and drones in particular. Mr Khan has already changed the destination of his march once, shifting it from North to South Waziristan, he can, perhaps, make a further amendment and do it before the GHQ, Rawalpindi or the PAF headquarters. It will be more courageous and, perhaps, more effective, but we already know that he cannot do that.
This is not about Waziristan, this is not even about drones; this is about politics and very dangerous and cowardly politics. By indulging and showing indecent deference to these murderers, Mr Khan is insulting thousands of those dead in suicide attacks over these years. The crucial mistake that he has been making and still continues to make is that his surrender means nothing to the TTP in the long run. There is irony in someone aspiring to be the prime minister of this country to display meekness and acquiesce to the TTP; who, lest we forget, consider democracy, the Constitution and other such Western concepts as Kufr. As a side note, someone who is not willing to enter into a coalition with any mainstream political party because all of them are evil, etc. is almost begging to gain the approval of the TTP; this does have the makings of a ‘Tsunami’.
We have a responsibility to fight these militants and if drones are not the best way to do so, other alternatives should be explored. One alternative that should not be on the table, not after thousands of deaths, is surrender. This is precisely what Mr Khan is advocating. By all means, go and play your political games and make populist, unrealistic promises, but a line needs to be drawn when the memory of thousands of our martyrs and the survival of our society is at stake. Unless, of course, Mr Khan can give us his solemn word that his new friends are willing to lay down their weapons and stop killing our innocent civilians.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2012.