A leaking bucket

A leading English daily in Pakistan has started publishing the ‘Pakistan Papers’, a set of WikiLeaks cables related to Pakistan. In a secret cable sent by the then US Ambassador Anne Patterson on February 11, 2008, she wrote that Chief of Army Staff General Kayani had requested that the Americans provide “continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area” in South Waziristan during a meeting with US CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J Fallon. The ISPR has denied these reports. According to an ISPR press release, “In the past, there has only been sharing of technical intelligence in some areas. No armed drone attack support has ever been asked for our operations, which have been conducted using own resources.” The revelations surrounding drone attacks are not surprising. Many in Pakistan had been talking about the state’s complicity in such strikes. In the past, some WikiLeaks cables had revealed how our politicians told the US that they would publicly make a noise about the drone attacks while in practice turning a blind eye. Ever since General Musharraf’s tenure, the drone attacks have been taking place. While the ISPR denied that the army chief made any such ‘request’ for surveillance drones, the revelations made by the armed forces themselves about Shamsi Airbase would make anyone suspicious of these claims. It is hard to accept that Pakistan gave land to the UAE, who then constructed an airbase and subsequently sublet it to another country (the US) without the knowledge and complicity of our armed forces. If our military establishment can allow this to happen, asking for drone surveillance is not that big an issue.

When the army chief asked for drone surveillance in 2008, the army was carrying out a military operation in South Waziristan. Surveillance drones are different from attack drones. They are unarmed and used to identify possible targets. The information gathered from surveillance drones is then passed on to the attack drones command. They are therefore very much part of the drone attack regime. What is incomprehensible is why the military establishment wants to deny these charges given the fact that we are trying to take out dangerous targets. Pakistan is not just a frontline ally in the war on terror, we have lost more than 30,000 people in terrorist attacks and 5,000 personnel of the security forces in the struggle against terrorism. In times like these, instead of coming clean, our politicians and military keep fooling the people. Drone strikes are helping the army fight militants in areas where ground strikes risk greater collateral damage. There is nothing wrong with admitting Pakistan’s cooperation. While the establishment may be afraid of a right-wing backlash by admitting to its complicity in drone strikes, religious parties and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) nevertheless are continuing their protests against drone strikes. This orchestrated campaign against drone strikes started before Osama bin Laden’s demise but has gathered more support after the OBL fiasco. In a recent meeting with CIA deputy director Michael Morrell, ISI chief General Pasha is reported to have warned the US that Pakistan “will be forced to respond if you do not come up with a strategy that stops the drone strikes”. This tough talking is obviously a result of the WikiLeaks exposé.

The US, on the other hand, is continuing with drone strikes. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear that the US will target other al Qaeda leaders as well if credible information is available. It is very much in our interest to help eliminate terrorist networks like al Qaeda from Pakistani soil. Making a hue and cry about unilateral strikes while we continue to provide safe havens to terrorists will not do the trick. An earnest campaign to root out all terrorists is the answer.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


Rajeev Suri said…
Perhaps just shortly after you posted this blog, the naval air base in Karachi has been attacked by Pakistan Taliban. Such an attack is reprehensible,& will be treated with anger, but not shame, as in the case of US's Abbottabad attack.By the Abbottabad attack Pakistan felt humiliated, as would any sovereign nation if a unilateral attack took place on their soil by an outside country.
America has given Financial and military aid to Pakistan, and therefore feels it has the right to commit unilateral acts, with little or no respect for the feelings of the nation on whom the act is being committed. The only way to avoid such humiliation is to reduce dependence on the donor country,i.e America,whilst systemically weeding out militant elements in the armed forces and intelligence agencies. The home grown terrorist organisations like the LET, Taliban etc. should be marginalized so that terror cannot rear its head either in Pakistan, or in other countries, using Pakistan as its base. Today's attack in Karachi is a stark reminder of this fact.
It is time civil society asserted itself in Pakistan to ensure the clerics or the military, with their respective agendas, don't steer Pakistan on a trajectory of no return.

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