The drone issue has reared its ugly head once again. Within the last two days, at least 18 and possibly more people have been killed in strikes in the North Waziristan area. The death toll is likely to rise, with many more people injured. Ostensibly, militants based in various parts of the agency were targeted. Reports in the American press quoting US officials suggest that Badruddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani network, was among those killed in the recent drone strikes. But this has not been confirmed by independent sources. The precise truth as to who was killed and where is of course impossible to establish. But the brief lull we had seen in the drone attacks has ended. Things, we can say, are ‘back to business’ as usual. The claim by the Pakistan government that it had asserted its sovereignty during talks with Washington has quite obviously turned out to be false. Islamabad has no way of stopping the drone strikes, with the recent incursions into its territory by the unmanned aircraft proving this. The summoning of senior US diplomats and the public protestations of complaint are really no different from those we have heard before. They almost inevitably come to naught.
The latest strikes go to prove – as former Pakistan ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani recently stated – there has been no real change in the relations between the two countries at all. The US has continued to act in its own interests. These do not necessarily coincide with those of Pakistan, where the drone attacks will only create a new wave of anger and complicate the key issue of combating militancy. The fact that there is no transparency in the agreements that exist between Islamabad and Washington in various spheres only adds to the feeling of disquiet amongst people. We really do not know how far Pakistan supports the drone attacks and whether the words we hear said out in the open are really meant. The time has come when the matter needs to be sorted out once and for all. The recent spate of strikes only highlights this. The rising rage in the country over the death – including that of innocent civilians – is an issue that needs to be addressed. It only adds to the outrage within our own country. At the same time, we need to device a viable strategy to tackle militancy, as the COAS has recently suggested, and move to ensure Washington respects this rather than acting on its own. It is still uncertain whether Pakistan tacitly supports the strikes or not. But it is obvious that the people of the country do not.