Pakistan needs to do some soul searching

In the backdrop of the recent Amnesty International report about the Drone operations in Pakistan, titled ‘’Will I Be Next?’’, the debate around the use of Drones by the US, in countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia has again taken centre stage. The report states that “United States has carried out unlawful killing in Pakistan through drone attacks, some of which could even amount to war crimes.” The US authorities have been tight lipped when it comes to providing information about its drone programme. The report mentions that “None of the US authorities contacted by Amnesty International (AI) were willing to provide information regarding the specific cases documented in this report or the legal and policy basis for the drone programme in Pakistan.”

The Drone operations were started in Pakistan in 2004. In the last nine years about 350 drone strikes have been carried out in Pakistan, most of which have come during President Obama’s tenure. Various studies done on the drone operations clearly point out to the fact that they have resulted in far more civilian deaths than that of the terrorists. It is also clear that the Drone programme has not achieved the desired results that it was purportedly started for i.e wiping out terrorism from the Pakistani tribal areas.

Apart from the lack of information from the US authorities, what complicates the issue is the role of Pakistani Civilian Govt and its powerful military in this operation. Of late the Pakistani politicians have been making noises against the drone strikes. On his recent visit to the US, Nawaz Sharif said that he had taken up this issue with the American President, a claim that was subsequently denied by the US authorities. Imran Khan has been the most vocal Pakistani politician against the use of drones. But the tacit support that the Pakistani authorities and the Army have provided for the drone operation belie the public pronouncements of Pakistani politicians. The Washington Post reported that between 2007 and 2011, the CIA was briefing Pakistan on the drone strikes. It also mentioned that Pakistani officials selected some of the targets. Taking the shifting positions that Pakistani authorities have taken, it seems that Pakistan has extended a covert, if not an overt consent to the US to go ahead with the Drone operations.

No doubt the drones have caused immense damage to the civilians living in the tribal areas of Pakistan. But drone strikes are not all there is to the extremism in Pakistan. It is just symptomatic of a bigger malaise that Pakistan has faced for a long time now. Given its dilly dallying on the issue of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, the criticism of drone operations by Pakistani politicians seems mere rhetoric. They don’t have any clear cut strategy of dealing with organisations like TTP. The Pakistan Govt has recently announced it’s willingness to hold  with them, where no one really knows what the talks between the two sides will centre around Hearing statements from Imran Khan and other politicians in Pakistan, one gets an impression as if  the problem of  extremism will be sorted out once the drone operations are called off.

For a change, Pakistan could do with some serious soul searching. The argument of violation of Pakistani sovereignty doesn’t cut much ice, given Pakistan’s own tacit support to the use of drones. Only when the Pakistani State takes the terrorists, operating in their territory with impunity, head on and shows its clear resolve to fight them, can they expect the Americans to take them seriously. Till then civilians in the Pakistani tribal areas will bear the brunt of this war and peace will remain elusive.

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