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June 11, 2011

Our one-sided view on drones


June 11, 2011

In a unanimous resolution on May 14, the joint session of parliament called for an immediate halt to US drone attacks, failing which Pakistan would be “constrained” to consider necessary countermeasures, including withdrawal of transit facilities allowed to the US-NATO forces. Since then there have been at least eight drone strikes in North and South Waziristan, but there is no reaction worth the name, let alone the countermeasures recommended in the resolution.
Is Pakistan in a position to face the consequences in case the countermeasures are taken? The answer is a big no. So why are we trying to deceive the people of Pakistan? Why can’t the government apprise them about the effectiveness of the drones, and the number and names of those terrorists killed in the strikes who have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Pakistanis?
There have been about 249 drone strikes in different parts of FATA since 2004. Except for three attacks, most of the strikes have targeted and killed terrorists and their facilitators. The strikes have played a major role in the elimination of some of those who were directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of more than 35,000 innocent Muslim Pakistanis and armed forces personnel. The drones have killed many prominent commanders of Al-Qaeda, which is operating in Pakistan since 2002.
There are a number of them, but the more important names include Khalid Habib, a Moroccan and commander operating in the Mahsud area of South Waziristan, Abu al-Laith al-Libi, commander of North Waziristan, Tahir Yaldashev, commander of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) who was responsible for the killings of prominent tribal maliks, Baitullah Mahsud, who was reported to have been involved in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Abu Suleiman Aljazairi and Abu Kash.
Ilyas Kashmiri, the news about whose death is not yet confirmed, is alleged to have been the mastermind behind many attacks on the armed forces

and on defence installations, including Mehran Base. The huge army land and air efforts resulting in hundreds of casualties may not have achieved what the precision strikes by drones have accomplished.
No one has the accurate estimates of the casualties caused by the drones. As a practice, the Taliban always surround and cut off access to the site of drone attacks to prevent people from knowing as to how many and who perished in the strike. The mere fact that the Taliban are the one cordoning off the area indicates that the casualties are actually those of terrorists and their facilitators.
These terrorist groups have a very effective media propaganda system. In case there had been a large number of civilian casualties, their names, photographs and other details would have been displayed on various jihadi sites. The three strikes based on inaccurate and faulty intelligence resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians were, shown to the media: Damadola 2006, South Waziristan 2008, and North Waziristan 2011.
According to the New American Foundation, the total drone number of casualties resulting from drone strikes ranges between 1,520 and 2,408. Out of these, between 1,227 and 1,937 were confirmed terrorists from Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, the Haqqani group, the Taliban and other outfits. So, according to the data of the New American Foundation, the maximum number of civilian casualties caused by drones has been 471 in seven years. However, out of these civilians most would have been facilitators, providing boarding, lodging, transport and other facilities to the terrorists, and therefore cannot be described as innocent civilians.
According to the Long War Journal, the total casualties are 1,954, out of which 138 are civilians. The Brooklyn Institute estimates that ten civilians are killed for every single terrorist eliminated. Their data is based on various news reports.
The figures released by the army commander about strikes in North Waziristan for the 2007-2011 period should be more authentic, as he is present on the ground and therefore has more reliable means of information than that gathered by the Americans. According to his statement, 964 militants died in 164 drone attacks in four years, in North Waziristan. Out of these, 793 were locals and 171 foreigners, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Chechens, Filipinos and Moroccans.
Parliament, certain political parties and the media are raising the issue of the country’s sovereignty being violated by the drones. It is a fact that the US drones are violating our sovereignty, but what about the people’s sovereignty? The people of Pakistan were deprived of their choice to elect their representatives for decades. Their sovereignty is as important as that of the state. In 1980, Zia opened our borders to Muslim jihadis, from all over the world, to participate in the so-called jihad. None of them required any visa or travel documents.
That was a severe blow to our sovereignty against which the print media never raised its voice. A reasonably liberal country was converted into a battlefield. Even now, there are more than one thousand foreign militants using our soil for terrorist’s activities. These terrorists, besides violating our sovereignty, are involved in the killing of thousand of innocent Pakistanis.
The drone is an unmanned machine, with no US pilot violating our border. But the terrorists are roaming our cities, towns and villages, killing Pakistanis and destroying our defence installations. We must raise our voice against these foreign terrorists since we organise dharnas against drones.
The political parties, as institutions, are required to educate their supporters. They should not formulate policies keeping in view the opinion of their voters, which may be flawed and based on misinformation, emotional and irrational rhetoric. The PPP, instead of supporting Salmaan Taseer’s bold and just stance, went on the defensive once he was assassinated. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto would certainly have reacted in a different way to the death of a great PPP leader, who lost his life promoting the cause of the party.
The rightist parties have an agenda. They have to appease their conservative voters. Nevertheless, the so-called liberal parties, the PPP, the ANP, the MQM and the nationalist parties should apprise their followers about the effects of the drone attacks. The coalition government should release data on these strikes. It should take the people into confidence and make it clear that the drones are operating in our areas with our consent. The number of civilian casualties is much less compared to those resulting from bombing by the air force and artillery and mortar fires.
The violation of our sovereignty by foreign militants is more dangerous than the action of the drones. The strikes by drones are indirectly supporting our operations against those terrorists who are killing innocent Pakistanis and attacking defence installations.

The writer is a retired brigadier who has served as head of the MI and the ISI for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and the Northern areas.

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