Imran Khan’s peaceful protest march has raised more questions than provided answers. The stated main purpose of the peace procession was to raise voice against US drone attacks. Very few would disagree that the use of drones undermines national sovereignty, is a violation of international law, lowers the image of the state in the eyes of its people, at times kills innocent people, instills a lurking fear in the population and aggravates anti-American sentiment. On the surface, these appear to be justifiable reasons even if one were to ignore their tactical advantage for opposing drone strikes. But the question of drones is far too complex as it is linked with several interconnected issues that need to be addressed along with it.
It should not be lost on Imran and all other critics of drones as what has in the first place given rise to the use of drones. The fact is that the Pakistani state has lost its writ over most parts of Fata and despite several military operations and the continued presence of the army and paramilitary forces in the region, it has not succeeded in regaining effective control. Not only is the Taliban’s power base getting entrenched in North and South Waziristan, where drones are mostly being deployed, but their ideology has also taken hold and is spreading widely. There could be no better demonstration of this hard reality than the peace procession being denied permission to go beyond Tank. The drones are, at least, containing the militants and it is for this reason that the military and the political leadership have been acquiescing to its use. In a drone-free environment, the Taliban power base would expand even more rapidly.
What we are seeing is that the tribal belt, which always had an autonomous character, is getting even further cut off from mainstream Pakistan and coming under the dominant influence of the Taliban.
Why is it that Imran and other right wing parties remain silent about the atrocities being committed by the terrorists? The Taliban are challenging the state, its Constitution and the very ideals that we cherish as followers of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision. How many among them are raising their voices for the brutal attack on young Malala Yousufzai who stood valiantly, risking her life for the values that every Pakistani should be proud of? The Taliban are targeting schools, remain deadly opposed to girls’ education and consider women as chattels. By imposing their myopic medieval ideology through brute force, they are destroying the future of coming generations. To expect that the Taliban will abandon their goals of capturing power and spreading their ideology if only the US would abandon its policy of using drones would be stretching naivety to its limits. Moreover, they are using the tribal belt as a sanctuary to engage in all types of criminal activity within Pakistan and have developed a nexus with the Afghan Taliban, allowing our territory to be used for launching attacks on Nato and Afghan forces. This has been a major source of friction between the US and Pakistan and, given the former a valid reason to unilaterally target militant hideouts in Fata. The Taliban apologists would argue that it is the US occupation of Afghanistan that has given rise to this situation and once their forces withdraw, the Afghan militants, including the Haqqani network, would go back to Afghanistan. Firstly, it is highly doubtful that they would leave, but even if they did, the space they vacate will be quickly filled by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The other reality is that the TTP’s activities have a serious impact on the overall security situation in Pakistan. This has had grave implications for the economy. Besides, there remains a constant threat that the Taliban could strike at our military installations, giving rise to fears that they could even target nuclear installations.
Some may argue that the Taliban are hitting at our military installations because we are fighting them in Fata. This is inverse logic because a country cannot allow its territory to be taken over by non-state actors. And how is it that the same people who are crying hoarse against drones do not have a word of condemnation for the Taliban when they usurp state authority, violate our sovereignty, kill innocent people, attempt a murderous attack on young Malala and strike at security installations?
Regrettably, the price of silence and political expediency could well prove to be the prelude to the first stage of Pakistan’s surrender to the Taliban and other jihadi forces, if our leaders do not listen to the wake-up call.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2012.