By IA Khanzada
Jane Mayer of The New Yorker magazine revealed in October edition, that the number of US predator drone strikes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border by the CIA, has risen dramatically under President Obama. Mayer cited a new study by the New America Foundation, which reported that 42 drone attacks had been authorized by President Obama in his first nine and a half months in office – more than George W Bush authorized in his final three years in office.
The study claims that since 2006, 82 US drone attacks in Pakistan have killed between 760 and 1,000 people, and that about one-third of those killed were civilians. According to Jane Mayer, “there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official US policy.” While questioning the legal status of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Phillip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, has accused US administration of “carrying out indiscriminate killings in violation of international law.”
On the domestic front, Pakistan has lodged formal protests to the allies forces in Afghanistan over the use of UAVs and warned that these are likely to affect the on-going military operation in Waziristan. The drone attacks are a violation of Pakistan sovereignty, counter productive and not helpful in the effort to win hearts and minds of people.
However, neo-cons and Hawks in Washington neither consider it a human rights violation nor are bothered of any internal hostile response. Instead, Pentagon is intending of “broadening the target area” to include “a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta” for CIA-operated unmanned drone attacks.
Why Quetta be bombed with drones? On the surface, the US is saying that since “our troops are located just the opposite side of the border with Quetta, they are coming under attack that’s why we need to target Quetta”. According to US Commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, Taliban militants in Balochistan, known as the “Quetta Shura”, are operating openly in Quetta to conduct operations inside Balochistan and Afghanistan.
Vice President Joe Biden and his cronies argue to de-emphasizes troop strength in favor of unmanned drones attacks on Osama bin Laden, Mullah Umar, Ayman al Zawahiri allegedly hiding in Quetta, Pakistan. Pakistan strongly refutes the US intelligence claims about the presence of Mullah Omar in Quetta, terming it baseless and far from reality. The Pak-Afghan border is vast and porous; running for more than 2,400 Km and has 249 known routes where crossing can take place. Pakistan has established more than 1,000 check posts and deployed 1,20,000 troops on the Afghan border to curb illegal movement.
Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Kayani is clear in saying that no such attack on Quetta will be allowed. Nevertheless, US drone strikes in the tribal areas and prospective attacks on Balochistan will bring about dire implications for Pakistan and the US itself. The drone attacks in Balochistan will certainly restrict Pakistan’s efforts in fighting the war on terror with the likelihood of risking more public resentment when the people of Balochistan will be bombed by the US predators.
The military operation against Taliban in Waziristan will also suffer a severe blow. At this critical stage, when Pakistan has been facing a spate of suicide attacks, the drone strikes are triggering furor amongst the general public. This will force the moderate element to join the ranks of radicals to avenge the deaths of their dear ones killed in the drone attacks. In this setting, a steep surge in suicide attacks will likely to multiple all across the country.
Drone attacks in the tribal areas have drawn a strong reaction throughout in Pakistan. Attacking militants on the soil of a longtime US ally, is strongly resented because: (1) The drones kill hundreds of innocent civilians along with few militants, causing widespread resentment against the Americans. (2) It ignores the sovereignty of Pakistan. (3) It irks the government that they are incapable of quelling Taliban from the areas under attack.
US administration alleged, “Though Pakistan has mounted military operations in Swat, Bunner, Lower Dir and Waziristan areas, they are focused on the Taliban who are targeting the Pakistani government, not those who are running operations inside Afghanistan.”
Under the garb of Talibanisation, if the US considers the option of sending US marines in Pakistan, alleging that nuclear weapons are not safe there. The much-talked about the presence of shadowy organization like “Blackwater & Xe Global”, is a point in case. In this changing scenario, armed forces are expected to relinquish the on-going military operations in Waziristan in tatters, and the fledging democratic government will be forced to withdraw from its commitment in the US-led GWOT. The real reason is to completely destabilize Pakistan, create an environment conducive to demand IAEA inspection, dismantle the Pakistani nuclear assets, cutting down the Pakistan army, finishing off the ISI and dismembering the country.
Regarding the controversial Kerry-Lugar Bill, it is anticipated that if Washington does not expunge all the conditionalities associated with the $1.5b per annum Kerry-Lugar aid package and impose sanctions, it will have far reaching consequences on the GWOT in Afghanistan, where Nato/Isaf troops are already facing defeat.
It is worth mentioning that France, Germany, Canada and Australia are already disenchanted and started questioning the moral basis of the conflict. Additionally, many countries contributing allied forces are now advocating talks with the Taliban. In nutshell, by targeting Quetta and expanding the war beyond tribal belt, many of the 28 Nato countries contributing troops could leave the US-led GWOT, creating a wedge between the US and its allies members.
The war is now in its ninth year and is claiming US lives at a record pace as military leaders say the Taliban has the upper hand in many parts of the country. Despite the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in October 2001, the US-led allied forces have failed to uproot the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. The President Obama is remapping “AfPak Strategy towards Afghanistan & Pakistan”, with a view to buy time for the Afghan government’s small & ill-equipped army to take over. The US administration increasingly acknowledges that the insurgency can be suppressed but not defeated outright by force.
The blame of providing safe havens to the Taliban militants in Quetta is totally misconstrued. The disturbances in Afghanistan are not sponsored by Taliban element living in Quetta, rather peaceful Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan. Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism just because of Afghanistan. One really has to wonder how many times the Pakistani government has to deny the existence of Taliban in Quetta.
The Quetta Shura is not a reality, as al-Qaeda militants do not have any worthwhile sympathisers of like-minded segments in Balochistan. The Baloch and Pashtun in Balochistan are moderate Muslims having secularism as part of their Islamic belief system. The al-Qaeda leadership cannot reorganize in Quetta or elsewhere in Balochistan to embark terror attacks inside Afghanistan.
If the America resorts to strike Quetta with drones, it will not only provide a perfect playground for dissenting forces to join hands with the radicals but also create an environment leading towards destabilizing Pakistan.