Imran Khan plans to lead about a hundred thousand people, including foreigners, and march to Kotkai in South Waziristan on October 7. His march is primarily against drone attacks but is also aimed at showing solidarity with the tribals and promoting peace in Fata.
There is no dispute over the fact that drones are violating our sovereignty. The difference in opinion is about the effects and collateral damage caused by these strikes. A large majority of people are of the opinion that these strikes are not helping the counterterrorism effort, are counterproductive and are leading to anger and more violence. Imran khan is of the view that there is a correlation between drone attacks and suicide bombings as such kind of violence started after the first drone strike in 2004. The fact is that there were 413 incidents of violence including 11 suicide bombings before the first drone strike. Terrorist activities have little or no link with drones. In 2009, there were 53 drone attacks and the casualties in the war on terror were 11,704 while in 2010, the number of strikes increased to 117 but the causalities decreased to 7,435.
Drones are violating our sovereignty but so are the foreign militants staying in our country without travel documents and using our soil for terrorist activities. They are the cause for drone attacks. The day they are expelled from our country, in all probability, there will be no drone attack. All kinds of weapons are used in wars; a drone is one of these weapons. Why are Western human right organisations protesting against only drones and not against say, daisy-cutters, artillery, mortars, bombers, IEDs, F-16s and many other weapons that cause more collateral damage than drones? Since the media has no access to drone-affected areas, the casualty figures reported are conflicting, ranging from 2,400 to 3,300. A recent report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) claims that 474-881 civilians, including 176 children, have been killed. How does the TBIJ differentiate between a civilian, a terrorist or a facilitator when it does not have the lists of names of members of the Haqqani network, Gul Bahadur and thousands of other Taliban, jihadis or the various sectarian groups operating in the area? On the other hand, people present in the area, having information about the terrorist organisations, their members and facilitators, reject claims of high civilian casualties. Except for three strikes, the other 312 have mostly killed terrorists and their facilitators.
Imran Khan ought to present the victims of drone attacks to the international media. At the same time, he should also make them meet the bereaved families of those thousands of innocent Pakistanis killed in targeted attacks. The army will take care of the families of their shaheed and disabled soldiers, but the families of civilians killed by the Taliban and al Qaeda will suffer for the rest of their lives. Imran does not realise that by terming this a US war, he is hurting the families of those 4,000 soldiers who lost their lives in the war on terror and is also demoralising those who are still fighting these terrorists.
Imran has taken a bold initiative but terming it a peace march may be a misnomer, unless he gets a commitment from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that they will surrender the day US forces withdraw from Afghanistan. The TTP has an agenda of implementing their brand of sharia in Pakistan through armed jihad. They do not believe in democracy, they consider the armed forces and most of the Pakistanis murtids, they do not believe in the Constitution or other pillars of the state. They want power and will not share it with Imran. He has to take extra security measures for his march up to Kotkai. He should not depend on Mehsud or the Bhittani tribesmen for security for they could not save themselves from the Taliban and had to submit to their rule. There are many terrorist groups operating in the area. One act of terrorism is likely to badly tarnish Imran’s image as a prudent and visionary leader, as perceived by a large number of his followers and this may lead to a serious law and order situation.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2012.