The drone dilemma - Tanvir Ahmad Khan- Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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Consider the state of the Pakistan-US strategic partnership by juxtaposing three recent happenings: the Raymond Davis affair, the drone attack that wantonly killed more than 40 tribal notables and their kinsmen and General Petraeus’ renewed demand for the Pakistan army to attack North Waziristan. Evidently, there are two wars going on; a war in which Pakistan is a partner and the other, in which it is the victim of a covert war waged by the United States.

That the second war has a certain degree of Pakistani complicity is fraught with consequences that will someday spiral out of Islamabad’s control. It is a major cause of its growing disconnect with the people; it weakens it incrementally reducing its leverage with the United States as well as with various internal political forces. The deadliest element in the mix is the dilemma posed by the ever increasing number of drone attacks that evoke bewildering responses from the government.

The Raymond Davis affair created an almost indelible impression that the thinly veiled situation brought to light by it briefly rattled even the national security agencies because it had developed with the connivance of elements in the government and national diplomacy. The collective memory of the people is not shaped by the sophistry of state functionaries; unfortunately, here perception is reality.

The drone attack brought a sharp condemnation from Pakistan but the people saw it through the prism of past responses. From 2004 to 2007, the use of this weapon of choice against Pakistani targets ranged from one to five; it rose to 35 in 2008, 53 in 2009 and 117 in 2010, with 2011 threatening to exceed all past figures.

North and South Waziristan received 166 and 53 hits respectively with 56 reportedly launched against the Haqqani network, 70 against Gul Bahadur and 29 against Maulvi Nazir. Of them, Gul Bahadur now threatens to terminate his ‘peace accord’ with Islamabad. The loss of lives ranges between 1410 and 2200. No more than 40 of them wore any mantle of leadership in the Taliban/Al-Qaeda fraternity. At one stage, Brookings maintained that for every militant killed, 10 civilians perished.

The aftershocks of the statement attributed to Prime Minister Gilani in the Wikileaks still continue; one only hopes that he never made it. A senior army officer reportedly endorsed the campaign in a recent briefing of foreigners. The truly absurd component in official responses has been the ‘revelation’ that Pakistan was pressing the United States for the transfer of drone technology. General Kayani’s denunciation of the latest atrocity was unambiguous but it was immediately challenged as mere damage control by two former ISI chiefs. The Foreign Office’s heroic rejection of a client status was duly appreciated but its impact was undermined by anaemic comments from the political quarters.

Marvi Memon, an indefatigable fighter for lost causes, has finally appealed to the ‘conscience of the King’, as Hamlet would have it, and asked him to bring the issue to parliament. If she means business, she should lobby across the aisles to get parliament radically engaged with the substantive issues of Pakistan’s most vital relationship. If parliament values Pakistan’s sovereignty, it should first reclaim its own sovereignty. Debating Pakistan-US relations is hard work and parliament has to go beyond the mesmerising rhetoric of Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the manipulative skills of the ruling elite. It should take up the challenge of defining the parameters of a relationship that we cannot do without and yet cannot manage. Face up to the task or allow the people to elect a new parliament.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

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