COMMENT: Predators and Reapers —Shahzad Chaudhry - Monday, April 25, 2011

One of the first services these armed drones provided was to eliminate key Pakistani Taliban commanders who had become a sore for the military establishment. Soon, the frequency of their armed attacks expanded to the chagrin of the Pakistani security establishment

Within the above title lies the unfolding geo-political dilemma of Afghanistan. Predators and Reapers are the two types of drones being used by the CIA in the border regions of Pakistan, and the foremost reason of US-Pakistan dissonance. These are also the metaphoric representations of the underlying interests that different agencies enact in Afghanistan to their respective ends just as the endgame begins there.

But first, let us treat the drones. This effective but entirely tactical war-fighting tool is threatening to unravel the long and somewhat tentative bilateral relationship between the US and Pakistan. The reasons are manifold but most tie in to the ill-informed hype that is expropriated to whip a religious-nationalist frenzy on the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan permitted the US/ISAF to fly the Predators in pre-designated airways over the troubled regions of FATA when it agreed to enable the US to hop through Pakistan in their post 9/11 tryst in Afghanistan. The merit of this decision is not in debate here, just the mechanics. Since flying in restricted Pakistani airspace meant detailed coordination to ensure authorisation, identification and separation from other aircraft, elaborate organisational mechanisms were put in place to control operations. The Predator’s mission aim was to observe, identify and transmit the pictures of an area of interest in real-time to a control room from where it could be electronically transmitted to all intended users. Pakistan was meant to be one such user of this joint need for intelligence in a war that Pakistan had agreed to partner with the US. These drones could be armed but Pakistan did not permit armed drones to fly in Pakistani space. There is every likelihood that those closing the deal neither knew of such a capability nor the Americans explicitly cleared the possibility. Ignorance and deliberate dereliction can only engender crucifying consequences.

Things between the two began to sour when the drones began to get armed. The Predator carries two Hellfire missiles that attack with precision designated targets. Its more modern cousin and a follow-on model, the Reaper, can carry four — its integrated surveillance and killing capability makes it the most effective pilot-less killing machine ever. One of the first services these armed drones provided was to eliminate key Pakistani Taliban commanders who had become a sore for the military establishment, implicitly gaining relevance. Soon, the frequency of their armed attacks and their target portfolio expanded to the chagrin of the Pakistani security establishment, inevitably becoming the new norm. Mostly, the flight plans for these drone missions continued to be shared with the Pakistani side for safety and airspace coordination. However, targets were known only after the drones had fired or whenever the CIA wished to share prior information.

Somewhere around 2007, the CIA began to make a case to the US president of Pakistan’s duality in this war against terrorism — much more the Pakistani security establishment than the political leadership. Musharraf retained the dual helm and was soon found by the US establishment as being dispensable. In a highly secret move, President Bush authorised an upgraded engagement matrix: Pakistan may not be informed in advance of the likely targets of drone attacks — coordination with them was to be discontinued, US/NATO forces could violate Pakistani territory in hot pursuit, boots on the ground were permitted whenever ground positions of any al Qaeda principals was determined and there stood a reasonable chance of neutralising or apprehending the key targets. This is when US drone attacks went totally black. Predators and Reapers were to become the main plank of the US’s pursuit of al Qaeda, and the CIA had the sole ownership for that mission in Pakistani territories. Mission creep gradually included the Taliban, as indeed the US’s agenda within Pakistan, and sucked the US deeper into their engagement in Pakistan.

Under President Obama these missions by drones have increased manifold. This was President Obama’s signal policy decision as soon as he assumed power. Reportedly, more than 2,500 have died in drone attacks in 2010 alone. How many were genuine militants is moot, and therein lies the rub and Pakistan’s fierce reaction to how the US has tended to conduct this war in the last three years. Initially, Pakistan remained ambivalent about the level of its unease with the drone strikes because of the partially favourable spin-off in its own counter-insurgency effort. But a large scale forced induction of CIA agents into Pakistan in lieu of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman arrangement meant that the agency was in earnest pursuit of an undeclared agenda. Relations between the CIA and the ISI, the two principal spy agencies, have deteriorated, especially since Raymond Davis blew the cover on the CIA’s secret war within Pakistan.

The CIA conducts this war on two fronts within Pakistan. It uses drones to target suspected militants from the air. It should do so after perfect intelligence since the drones are meant to obviate collateral damage, while results show a callous regard for any such nicety. The CIA is also not concerned if anti-Americanism is reinforced because of the drone policy, or if this relentless campaign causes Pakistani society to fracture as a consequence. The CIA also plays the other plank of having unleashed their special agents and contract spies — like Raymond Davis — to pursue the other part of their war in Pakistan. Questions are being asked of illicit relations between such agents and the Punjab-based militant groups and the increasing incidence of bomb blasts in Punjab and other centres, seeking hidden motives characterising these as the CIA’s sinister moves to cement further dissent in Pakistani society. Add to this the uncertainty of the prevailing situation aided by a listless and aimless political leadership, and aspersions that get cast on politico-military complicity to US paymasters, and the CIA has it made with Pakistani society riddled in deepening fault-lines.

The CIA has always had a separate agenda from the declared stance of both the state and defence departments in Washington. History is replete with such internal duplicity within American administrations. Even when Mullen and Co and the Grossmans make their beeline to Islamabad to try and recover the fractured US-Pakistan relationship, they seem helpless in stemming the CIA’s private and secret war in Pakistan. Obama is either complicit or a wimp. News of Petraeus moving to the CIA if Panetta takes over defence after Gates will bring about an inimical nexus of individuals who retain their agenda on Pakistan. Even today, the CIA carries a possible Petraeus nod for their detrimental role in destabilising Pakistan even though it comes at the cost of threatening the US’s success in Afghanistan. There are wheels within wheels within the American system. Woodward tells us, “Petraeus need not necessarily agree with either the president or the secretary defence or even with Mullen” — he may well be executing his own war. With Petraeus out in July and Mullen in September, and Holbrooke’s parking space having changed permanently, it is an open play for the new nexus.

Pakistan is well advised to hedge.

Shahzad Chaudhry is a political and defence analyst

Source :\04\25\story_25-4-2011_pg3_2

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