Drones, dharnas and terrorism

The Friday Times: Najam Sethi Editorial
Imran Khan’s “dharna” to protest drone strikes in FATA has been hailed by his supporters as highly “successful”. Political rivals aren’t impressed. They claim that “FATA tribesmen corralled by the agencies” provided the numbers. More to the point, however, is Imran Khan’s vow to return to the venue after one month and block NATO until America pledges to stop drone strikes for good. If Imran Khan is as good as his word to stop NATO in its tracks – which we doubt very much – and if America is as good as its word to continue with the drone strikes – which we don’t doubt too much – then we will have a serious problem on our hands. Meanwhile, it may be pertinent to present some facts and ask some sober questions about the politics of drone strikes in FATA versus Taliban terrorism in Pakistan.

There were 10 drone strikes from 2004-2007 and 226 from 2008-2011. The total number of those killed is about 2000. Maj Gen Ghayur Mahmud, GOC 7Div, North Waziristan, insists only a “few civilians” were killed in these attacks. In 2010, there were 117 drone attacks, mostly in North Waziristan against Al-Qaeda and foreign elements, and only 26 against the Haqqani network which is allegedly a Pakistani “asset”. Of the 21 strikes this year, 17 were in North Waziristan, which is apparently “kosher” for the Pakistani security forces too since the targets were Al-Qaeda foreigners. But no one wants to hear Gen Ghayur debunking the populist “myth” of drone strikes killing “numerous civilians”. Apparently it is good media and politics to let pride and passion run amuck even at the cost of the national interest.

Meanwhile, no one is bothered about the extent and frequency of the Taliban’s terrorism in Pakistan. There were over 3000 bomb explosions and attacks in which over 35,000 people were killed in the last seven years. Yet no politician cares to remind the public about this fact. The Taliban attacked more than 50 Muslim shrines, mosques, tombs and places of worship, killing more than 1100 people and seriously injuring over 3000.But no journalist cares to remind the public about this fact. More than 250 schools in FATA and over 200 in Swat were razed to the ground by the Taliban, but who cares. Nearly 80 security installations were attacked by the Taliban last year but there is no requiem for the shaheeds . The innocent civilians who perished at the hands of the Taliban in over 130 bomb attacks last year have no names, no families, no marked graveyards. Since 2003, nearly 10,000 civilians and 3500 soldiers and policemen have been snuffed out by the Taliban, yet many misguided people still view them as innocent soldiers of Islam!

Last Monday, the Taliban attacked and killed some Navy personnel in Karachi and were quick to claim responsibility. Yet there was no Imran Khan to condemn them and no journalist to expose their designs.

Imran Khan says: “Make me prime minister and I will end this conflict in three months”. How will he do this? He can pull out of the strategic alliance with America, stop NATO supplies to Afghanistan, close down US bases in Pakistan, kick out all Americans from Pakistan, and tell the IMF, World Bank etc to pack their bags and quit. Then he will make peace deals with the Taliban. End of problem?

No. We know from past experience that the peace deals with the Taliban merely emboldened them to seize more territory from the Pakistani state for their own promised Emirate of Islam. They don’t recognize democracy, they will not allow a free media, they hate the Anglo-Saxon justice system and they will disallow any multiplicity of political parties. Meanwhile, America and the international community will embrace India and sanction Pakistan. There will be no money for the budget and no money to buy and upgrade the military’s toys. The rich will flee to foreign shores along with their capital, the rupee will slide and inflation will strangle the people. The Taliban will then walk in to finish the job.

Imran Khan says that if the drone strikes end, the Taliban will peacefully lay down their arms and evaporate. But the record shows that the over 4000 Pakistanis had died at their hands even before the drones made a splash in North Waziristan in 2008.

Pakistan’s military must come clean with the people of Pakistan. Is the so-called “strategic alliance” with America in our interest or not? How should we negotiate with America and multilateral institutions? What are the consequences of a populist rupture with America? What sort of national consensus should politicians and the military aim to achieve on this issue?

It is not a good idea to help create and nurture a rabid anti-American national mindset for purposes of short-term leverage with America and then find that it is detrimental to the longer-term interest of Pakistan. This is what happened in the Raymond Davis case when we had to eat humble pie and face the wrath of our own people at the same time. The policy of renting our state out to America is bankrupt. It is not winning friends at home or abroad.




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