By Tanveer Jafri : American drone strikes in the tribal areas of Af-Pak region, especially in the border areas of North Waziristan, are a matter of concern these days. Those opposed to these drone attacks call them a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. However, a large number of peace loving Pakistanis implicitly favour these strikes. Their acquiescence arises from the fact that most of these drone attacks often target the top commanders of the Taliban, Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Haqqani Network, who are out of bounds for Pakistani armed forces. To carry out these drone strikes, the US takes the help of locals. Usually, these are the Pashtun speaking people who work as agents of the CIA. They are not only rewarded with large amount of money after a successful drone operation, but also some of them are provided with American nationality for security reasons. To transmit information regarding the terrorists, the informers use the technical aids like SIM cards, GPS etc. As and when an accurate location of any terrorist is provided by the informer to the designated American handlers, it is promptly forwarded to the Drone Control Room in Nevada, USA. In a matter of seconds, the order to fly drone is issued. Acting on the direction, the drones, equipped with missiles, take off from Bagram Airbase of the US in Afghanistan and swiftly shoot down the targets with their precision strike capability.
After waging a reluctant war against the Afghan Taliban and the TTP, the Pakistani establishment seems to have surrendered before them. It is not because the Pak army is any weaker than the Taliban; rather it is mainly because the Talibani ideology has deeply infiltrated the ranks of Pak government, Army and the ISI. This is the reason that the Taliban has repeatedly carried out major attacks on Pak defence installations. For this very reason, Pakistani government has offered to talk with the Taliban. On that side of the border in Afghanistan, the US is trying to figure out the difference between the ‘good’ Taliban and the ‘bad’ Taliban, so that the ‘good’ Taliban can be taken into confidence. Every time some talk is to commence, suddenly a drone strike badly damages the prospects of talks. For instance, the TTP chief and the mastermind of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Hakimullah Mehsud was killed on November 01, 2013 in a drone attack in North Waziristan. The day Mehsud was killed, a high-level Pakistani delegation was ready to take off for Northern Waziristan to begin talks with the TTP. The killing of Hakimullah Mehsud just a few hours ahead of the proposed talks has raised many questions. In response to the strike, the Taliban has not only ruled out any future talks with Pakistan after the killing of Mehsud, it has also threatened Pakistan with a historical revenge for the killing of Mehsud. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhari Nisar Ali Khan has said that until the US stops the drone attacks, talks with the Taliban cannot happen. Recently, three terrorists of Haqqani Network were also targeted in a drone attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. On this too, Pakistani Interior Minister claimed that the attack was not against any person or organization, rather it was carried out to thwart the talks. Though besides this allegation, Chaudhari Nisar had to clarify that Pakistani establishment had no role in these drone strikes. Pakistani Ministers have from time to time given the clarification regarding the involvement or consent of Pakistan in the drone attacks. This is because the Taliban doubt that the American drones cannot carry out attacks without the tacit consent of Pakistan. There can only be two reasons behind the violation of Pakistani airspace by American drones. First, either Pakistani establishment is implicitly hand in gloves with the US with regard to drone strikes. Or, the US does not bother about violating Pakistani airspace or sovereignty while taking out its targets. The Abbottabad operation by the US Navy SEALs was an example. In the context of drone strikes, it is also to be noted that Pakistan is a major ally of America in its ‘War on Terror’ campaign.
Therefore, it is hard to believe that Pakistani Army or government has no consent in drone strikes. In the aftermath of drone strikes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz claimed that the US will not carry out any drone attack during the proposed talks between Pakistan and the Taliban. But it is not clear that which American official gave him this assurance. Aziz also admitted that the proposed talks with the TTP have been adversely affected by the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike. Whenever innocent persons, kids, women or elderly are killed in a drone strike, it gives rise to public anger against the US, which is exploited by the Taliban. As a result, many times big protests have erupted in Pakistan. But America, unfazed by any protest or threat by the Taliban, continues with drone strikes.
The above circumstances make one wonder whether the drone strikes being carried out by the US on Pakistani soil are a cause of Pakistan’s problems or should they be considered a blessing in disguise for Pakistan? Drones are silently able to kill the top terrorists whom Pakistan Army fails to even locate. The Talibani elements in Pakistani Army and the ISI often give prior information to the Taliban regarding any planned raid or strike by the Army. As a result, the terrorists either flee to other safe locations or prepare themselves to respond to the Pakistani assault, thus causing major damage to the forces. It is not completely wrong to say that the drone attacks are inadvertently helping the Pakistani forces. Even though these strikes cause huge damage to the terrorist infrastructure and cost some innocent lives in the process, for the peace loving people of Pakistan and the world as well as the honest and liberal elements in Pakistani establishment, these attacks are no less than a boon. Tanveer Jafri