By Nazia Nazar25 July, 2012
After the US tendered an apology over NATO air strikes on Salala check posts though belatedly, there has been key development vis-à-vis thaw in Pak-US ties. According to reports in national newspapers, chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam will visit the US in last week of July or first week of August 2012.
Reportedly, the visit has been approved by the government, and it will be the first visit by the army chief or an intelligence chief to the US after the 2nd May 2011 when the US Marines had conducted operation at Abbottabad compound, showing utter disregard to international law and Pakistan’s sovereignty. The ISI chief will meet his US counterpart, Director Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus and other senior American officials to discuss matters related to counter-terrorism cooperation. The sources stated that Lt-General Islam will also focus on unilateral drone attacks by the US and press for their cessation.
There is hope that the meeting between two spy-masters would be fruitful, and could prove to be the first step in normalizing relations between Pentagon and Pakistan military. In western press also, there is speculation as to what DG ISI will talk to his counterpart. They reckon that he will ask to stop drone attacks and provide strategic and technical intelligence input obtained through drones/Unmanned Arial Vehicles so that Pak can take action against the terrorists. Though America had in the past refused to transfer drone technology, DG ISI is poised to discuss possibility of transfer of drone technology and capacity building of Pakistani forces. It has to be mentioned that civil and military leaderships are on the same page so far as drone attacks are concerned. Lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam is committed to follow the guidelines given by the Parliament; it is therefore for sure he would to say no to drone attacks and no to US troops on ground.
According to sources, the ISI chief will reject any ‘wink-and-nod’ offers from the US in terms of drone strikes and US boots on the ground. In fact, drone attacks raise important ethical and legal questions - questions that have long been debated by proponents and critics alike.
Obama administration insists that drone strikes have resulted in few civilian casualties, but the available evidence suggests that civilian casualties from drone strikes are substantial. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported between 2,464 and 3,145 fatalities from drone attacks in Pakistan, of which 482 to 830 have been civilians. According to the New America Foundation, estimated civilian fatalities range from 293 to 471, which seem to have been down-played. Though the US conveys an impression that Pakistan government had given the nod, functionaries of the previous government claimed that Pakistan had never given the U.S. carte blanche over drone use.
In the absence of any written agreement between the US and Pakistan, one knows not about any understanding reached between the US and the previous government; but there could be an arrangement that before any strike Pakistan would be informed before hand. But the CIA did not deem it necessary to take Pakistan into confidence. The CIA did not trust Pakistan on the pretext that once the CIA had informed Pakistan about an ammunition factory in FATA and that Pakistan leaked the information and the terrorists vacated the premises. But this was a lame excuse, as there was no ammunition factory at the venue suggested by the CIA. Anyhow, according a recent poll 97 percent of Pakistanis polled outside of FATA have said drone strikes are a bad thing, 76 percent of people in FATA opposed them. Having all said, before constructive dialogue can take place, misconceptions need to be cleared-up in order to bring the relations on pre-9/11 episode.
The problem is that the CIA is neither willing to trust Pakistani military and intelligence agencies nor willing to understand that drone attacks are creating hatred against the US, and alienating and radicalizing local populations. A report published in Washington Post last month stated that civilian casualties of US Drone strikes may engender support for Al Qaeda, which is turning the unstable nation into perhaps its most important base for operations.
Drone strikes are unpopular in Pakistan, and are stirring anti-Americanism. The Newsweek had carried a cover story in June 2012 under the title ‘Drones the silent killers’, in which President Barack Obama was reported to be unhappy and disturbed when innocents were killed in the drone attacks. The author, perhaps, was referring to a drone attack in Afghanistan within months after assumption of office by Barack Obama. The missile hurled by CIA’s pilot-less aircraft, instead of hitting the CIA’s intended target - a Taliban hideout - had struck the compound of a prominent tribal elder and members of pro-government peace committee.
As regard drone attacks, American civil and military leaders have been creating confusion by conveying an impression that attacks are being carried out with the nod from Pakistan government. Such statements paint Pakistan government, military and intelligence agencies in bad light. In keeping with desire and aspirations of the people, Pakistan’s political; military and intelligence leaderships are on the same page so far as non-acceptance of drone strikes is concerned. They have repeatedly asserted that unilateral drone strikes have proved counter-productive and result in stoking anti-American feelings on one hand and tend to create sympathy for the terrorists on the other. These attacks are in violation of international law; they undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty and tarnish the image of Armed Forces of Pakistan. However, Pakistan is carefully treading the risky road, as it is not a matter of dealing with the super power but with 49 NATO countries. And it is a Herculean task.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Pakistan. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org