EDITORIAL: Drone attacks - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\02\23\story_23-2-2011_pg3_1

Soon after the theory was floated in the media that the drone attacks had mysteriously stopped after the arrest of Raymond Davis because he had connections in North Waziristan, a drone struck near the agency’s headquarters Miranshah, in which 11 suspected militants were killed. It seems that conspiracy mongering is the only burgeoning industry in Pakistan. The US might have stopped such operations temporarily in view of anti-American sentiments in Pakistan affecting the Raymond Davis case, but to argue that this happened because he was directly involved in gathering intelligence is absurd. In fact, it is the Pakistan government that had given tacit approval to these strikes while denying this and protesting against them in public. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Pakistan might also have been providing intelligence backup for this purpose. The process involves identifying targets, locating them, and calling in the strike. A single operative cannot do this.

There has been a spike in drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan during President Barack Obama’s tenure. Last year, according to a report in The Washington Post, 518 militants were killed in 118 drone strikes. However, questions are now being raised about the efficacy of this campaign. The Washington Post report quoted American experts and unnamed Pakistani sources for reaching the conclusion that the overwhelming majority of those killed are low-level militants. According to the report, out of the 518 killed, only two were on the most wanted list of the US. Pakistan has reportedly pressed the US to “to find better targets, do it more sparingly and be a little less gung-ho”. Pakistan realises the political fallout of these strikes, especially after the Raymond Davis episode, which has become very difficult for the government to handle. Anti-American sentiment has escalated and this might have compelled the government to make this argument to the Americans. Also, some analysts have argued that by eliminating the top militant leadership, Washington is creating difficulties for itself because the old leaders are being replaced by hardline younger leaders who might not be inclined to talk to the US.

However, it is a very intriguing question that while secretly sanctioning drone strikes, our military establishment has been supporting certain factions of the militants. It would not be out of place to argue that some of their own protégés were being hurt in this campaign. It cannot be said with certainty if the US is distinguishing among various hues of militants — al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban. Also, there are claims of collateral damage, which is alienating people from the US in the region. The issue of collateral damage is not limited to Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the Karzai government has repeatedly protested on this issue but with little success. The latest such incident happened on Monday when NATO forces were accused of killing six members of a family in an air strike in Nangarhar province. Inherently, air strikes are far less precise than drone attacks. As the deadline of July 2011 for partial withdrawal of American and Nato troops draws near, both sides in the war have intensified their efforts to achieve their objectives and secure a better position in the prospective aftermath. However, the political fallout of blunt attacks will not achieve the purpose of winning hearts and minds of the people in the counter-insurgency efforts of the US. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Bringing the Davis affair to an end

The Raymond Davis saga continues and along with it so do the flurry of reports and speculations. It is now coming to light that Davis’s background and vocational capacity are not as straightforward and innocent as the US would have initially had us believe. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has stated that Davis was indeed working for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a claim that has not been refuted by US officials who say that while working on a contractual basis with the CIA, Davis was not a covert operative. The US officials who refuse to be named say that Davis was a CIA-employed bodyguard for US Embassy staff and visiting dignitaries. There are still other reports that claim Davis was actually a spy and was even working closely with the much-hated militant group the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whilst other speculations say that the American gunslinger is a security contractor. Suspicions run deep in this murky swamp that has become the Raymond Davis affair.

However, one thing is clear: whoever Raymond Davis is and whatever he was doing on Pakistani soil, he is being claimed by the US as a serving diplomat who enjoys complete diplomatic immunity. The whole sordid affair is tragic and is proving to be detrimental to Pak-US relations. While we can badmouth the US for its trigger-happy approach to Pakistan, we cannot forget that it was Pakistan and its unique power plays — Musharraf’s policies of appeasement — that allowed CIA agents free licence to roam around in Pakistan and do as they please. The common man is incensed that Davis could very well be allowed to get off scot-free after killing two Pakistani citizens. The public backlash may be high pitched but, so far, it seems as if it might not attain the sound and fury of the blasphemy issue that has recently fizzled out. The US backlash on the other hand, may be a very real breakdown of our economic system without their funding.

In such a ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ scenario, there seems just one option left for the hapless Pakistan government: to take Senator John Kerry up on his offer of handing Davis over after which he will be subject to criminal investigations in the US. Right now, it may seem like Pakistan will be at the losing end in such a concession but the long-term repercussions of any other course could be much, much worse. *

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