Drone Attacks and Their Implications
By Air Marshal (Retd.) Ayaz Ahmed Khan
Los Angeles , CA
Leon Panetta, the US Central Intelligence Agency Chief during his visit to Islamabad, has refused to halt drone attacks or assure President Asef Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani that drone attacks could be halted. He said what he has asked to state categorically.
Richard Holbrooke the US Special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan has said that Pakistan’s city Quetta appears to be the Taliban’s headquarters. “The number one problem in stabilizing Afghanistan was the Taliban sanctuaries in Western Pakistan, including its tribal areas and border cities like Quetta. Quetta appears to be the headquarters of Taliban leaders, who are some of the worst people in the world.”
On Wednesday March 25, 2009, the US drones bombed a house in the Makeen area of South Waziristan with Hellfire missiles, killing seven, including foreign militants. This was the 60 th Predator attack during the last three years in which about five hundred Pushtuns and foreign militants have been killed, and thousands injured.
On 28 February, 2008 at a press conference in Washington, the CIA Director had firmly stated that “ US air attacks including drone bombings are vital to demolish extremist strongholds inside Pakistan, despite any backlash in Pakistan. Efforts to go after the terrorists cannot be stopped before the terrorists stop their ambushes and assaults. The attacks have been successful and a number of Al-Qaeda leaders have been killed.”
The drone missile strikes have continued for three years, but the terrorist capabilities to launch suicide attacks, ambush, kidnap for ransom, and strike at random in Pakistan and Afghanistan remain intact. Neither Washington, nor Islamabad, could devise alternate plans to reduce the terrorists’ offensive capabilities.
The drone attack policy has been continued by President Obama with threats to bomb Quetta and suspected terrorist hide outs in Balochistan. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen have repeated that “drone attacks into FATA will continue, as long as there are militant safe heaven in the area”.
Predator drones continue to kill and injure Pushtuns and some foreigners. The Pushtuns are furious and anti-American feelings have resultantly intensified. The backlash in Pakistan and Afghanostan are suicide attacks, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings by militant criminals on both sides of the border. Instead of any tactical gains or strategic advantage, the daily slaughter of some militants, and heavy collateral damage of civilian lives, homes and property will leave long lasting scars, which will never heal.
Supply of weapons, funds and trained recruits to Taliban militants by warlords continues. NATO and U.S commanders and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan have not taken concrete steps to intercept or interrupt the supply chain of Taliban forces and criminal groups in the Tribal area. Mullahs on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border are issuing fatwas against the US, NATO, and Afghan and Pakistani authorities. People are being brainwashed by sermons from mosques, madrassas and FM radio stations in the tribal areas and Swat, condemning the drone attacks, and foreigners’ lust for the Pushtun blood.
Drone attacks have created unabated anger against the United States. The fact that the USAF-CIA drones are using Pakistani bases for refueling, arming, maintenance and logistics, has convinced the public, especially the Pushtun tribes, that criticism of USAF drone attacks by the authorities is nothing but an eyewash. The government must come upfront, and either forcefully deny American media and Congressional admission about the use of Pakistani bases by Predator drones, or open such bases to the media to ascertain the truth or otherwise
The Jamat-e-Islami filed a requisition in the Senate Secretariat to summon a session of the Upper House of the Parliament to debate the US drone attacks amid reports that the US has plans for drone strikes on villages and cities in Balochistan. JI Senator Professor Khurshid Ahmed has expressed concern over the US decision to expand the drone attacks from FATA, Pakhtunwah –NWFP to Balochistan. He called upon the Obama administration to reconsider the ongoing military action by US Hellfire missiles inside Pakistani territory and extending the parameter of US Predator missile aggression into poverty-stricken Balochistan. Senator Khurshid said that the US had failed in its strategy to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and now wanted to destabilize Pakistan by drone missile attacks on its villages and cities. He urged for a comprehensive strategy to deal with the issue of terrorism, extremism and militancy.
It is worth mentioning that Senator Khurshid Ahmed heads the Institute of Policy Studies, which for decades has been engaged in discussing issues of national, regional and international importance; and has the required expertise to prepare a draft paper on the subject for the perusal of the Senate and the Parliament. The Parliament should appoint a special committee to go into the matter.
President Obama and his national Security Advisers after deliberating on two reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan have called for broadening the parameters of drone attacks to include terrorist and insurgent sanctuaries in and around the city of Quetta. According to the US, Mullah Omar the ousted Taliban leader has operated with impunity from Balochistan for years. Fighting between US-NATO forces and Taliban in southern Afghanistan has gained momentum in recent months. American military commanders argue that Predator strikes in the tribal areas have forced Taliban leaders to flee south towards Quetta. General David H. Petraeus, commander US Central Command and Lieut. General Douglas E. Lute, a top White House Aide in Afghanistan have recommended expanding operations including US drone attacks into Balochistan. The Obama Administration is very serious about the containment of militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the enhanced ferocity of fighting in south Afghanistan could force the US and NATO commanders to launch hellfire missile attacks from Predator drones on targets in and around Quetta, and elsewhere in Balochistan.
Underlining the urgency in Washington to step up cooperation with Islamabad to contain the deteriorating security situation in South and West Asia CIA Director Leon Panetta’s visit to Islamabad to meet Pakistani authorities, signifies the great importance accorded by the Obama Administration to engage Pakistan on the serious issues of terrorism, extremism, and militancy, especially kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners. It is hoped that the ISI did its home work, and besides presenting facts and figures, urged the CIA Director in the strongest terms to stop drone attacks and violation of Pakistani air space and sovereignty. It is about time that the Obama Administration is warned that drone attacks on Quetta or anywhere in Balochistan will be considered an act of war.
The parliament must immediately deliberate to put a stop to US bombing of Pakistan cities, especially the provincial capital of Balochistan.
Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Asalam Raisani has said that there are two types of Taliban - the militant Taliban, and those studying in madrassas. “Our’s are the peaceful Taliban. If the CIA has proof of the presence of Mullah Omar, the Taliban supreme commander in Balochistan, his hideout may be disclosed, and we will hand him over to the CIA”. Raisani has promised to recover UN official John Solecki. His efforts to recover John Solecki will be jeopardized by the drone attacks. The already existing sense of despair, frustration and anger on continuing drone attacks will accentuate, and will create instability and insurgency in Balochistan.