Between a rock and a hard place

A report published in The Washington Post has taken the country by storm. The report’s title: ‘US wants to widen area in Pakistan where it can operate drones’, is self-explanatory. According to the said report, “The US appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to be based. But the request also seeks to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas.” As expected, the Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) has rejected the appeal. As per the report, the CIA’s cooperation with the ISI has ‘deepened’ and their joint operations have been “mainly focused on Quetta”. The FO denies this and maintains that though Pakistan collaborates with all the world’s agencies, the operations are conducted by our own security forces.

The report makes a few things very clear. One, the Pakistanis may underplay the Quetta Shura and deny its presence, but the Americans are sure that not only does it exist but that it has a very significant role in the war in Afghanistan. Hence the insistence of the US to allow drone attacks in Quetta. The reasons for Pakistan’s refusal are aplenty. Since Quetta is a built-up city, there are chances that the collateral damage will be high. In an already turbulent province where there is a nationalist insurgency, drone attacks would add to the Pakistani state’s woes. But this line of reasoning can be countered with the fact that our own security agencies pose a graver threat to the people of Balochistan than any drone strikes could. Maybe our refusal has more to do with our nuclear installations in the province. The Americans are also seeking permission from Pakistan to expand the zones that they are (tacitly) permitted to strike. This has definitely to do with the reports that the Haqqani network is being moved from North Waziristan to Kurram Agency, the latter not yet part of the ‘permitted’ drone areas. And now that we may be on the verge of starting a military operation in North Waziristan, it would not help the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan if indeed the reports about the shift to Kurram Agency are true. The US aims to degrade the Taliban to a point where they are forced to come to the negotiating table but if our strategic assets, the ‘good Taliban’, continue to operate freely from Kurram, the US would not be able to achieve its goals.

In another significant move, NATO has struck a deal with Moscow to boost the flow of western military supply shipments through Russia to the frontline in Afghanistan. So far, Pakistan has been able to exert pressure on the US by using its leverage as a logistical supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan. Russia is also cooperating with the US-led NATO troops in curbing the drug trade in Afghanistan. Drugs and terrorism are very closely linked because the Taliban get major funding from the sale of narcotics. Russia is helping the US in order to avoid a spillover of the Taliban insurgency into its own territory. Thus, if the US and NATO’s dependence on Pakistan decreases, there are more chances that the US would not even seek permission for conducting drone attacks wherever it deems fit. Other forms of incursion like aerial and on the ground could also take place.

It is time to take stock of our situation. The Pakistani military’s India-phobia and ‘strategic depth’ policy have given us nothing but trouble. Our state is crumbling before our very eyes, the state’s writ is being challenged every single day by the terrorists, and we are threatened with an extremist takeover one day. We are going to be pummelled into the ground if we continue along our present path. Our security establishment must wake up to reality before Pakistan is ‘droned’ into oblivion by its self-defeating policies.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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