In one of the major drone attacks, more than 40 civilians and policemen were killed when on March 18 this year, an unmanned US aircraft fired four missiles into a building in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan.
Although drone attacks have continued intermittently on Pakistan’s tribal areas in the last few years, which have killed many people, yet this strike was so lethal that on the same day, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani strongly condemned it as “unjustified and intolerable” and said it was a violation of human rights. He elaborated, “A jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area has been targeted carelessly with a complete disregard to human life. He further indicated, “Such an act of violence takes us away from our objective of elimination of terrorism…it was imperative to understand that this critical objective could not be sacrificed for temporary tactical gains”, adding that “security of the people of Pakistan, in any case, stood above all.”
Next day, while reacting to the US-led drone strike, Islamabad summoned the US ambassador, Cameron Munter, and lodged a strong protest, telling that Washington should not treat Pakistan as a client state, demanded an apology and explanation from the US. In this respect, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir also conveyed to Munter that under the current circumstances, Islamabad would not participate in the trilateral meeting among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US—likely to be held in Brussels on March 26.
Besides other similar strikes of the past, especially gravity of this attack could be judged from the fact that it has triggered a backlash in North Waziristan and other tribal areas. In this regard, particularly, on March 18, tribal elders in North Waziristan Agency vowed on to avenge the US-backed drone attack, while tribal chieftains belonging to FATA strongly condemned the attack. In this context, a NWA tribal elder, Malik Jalaluddin, declared a jihad against the United States, saying, “We want to avenge the killings. We never forgive our enemy. I allow suicide attacks on Americans.”
However, the US which started drone strikes on Pakistan’s tribal areas during the Bush era, has intensified the same under the Obama Administration—without bothering for the fact that these attacks by CIA-operated aircraft have been sabotaging American interests.
While justifying the strikes by the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), US blames by misperceiving that the mountainous tribal area of Pakistan is a base for militant attacks on American and other NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan and a stronghold of al-Qaida’s senior leadership.
Some sources suggest that last year, during the meeting of Tripartite Commission in Kabul, Army Chief General Kayani has conveyed it to the US that drone attacks would not be allowed.
Notably, from time to time, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership has protested against the attacks by the pilotless spy planes by pointing out that these are likely to affect war against terrorism in the country, but American policy makers do not bother for any internal backlash. Instead, Washington is considering a strategy of widening the course of drone attacks which will also include Balochistan.
Nevertheless, US drone strikes in the tribal areas and similar prospective attacks on Balochistan will not only bring about far reaching implications for Pakistan, but also for the US.
It is notable that strikes by the US predators will effect Pakistan’s military operations against the Taliban militants, sabotaging successes achieved in Swat, Buner and Dir—particularly in South Waziristan.
At this critical juncture, the drone strikes have been causing fear and panic among the dwellers. Inclusion of Balochistan will further deteriorate the situation due to internal backlash in whole of Pakistan, resulting in more anti-Americanism and public protests in our country, while moderates will join the radicals, providing new impetus to the Islamic insurgents in Pakistan. Such a blunder will further organise and increase the number of the Pakistani Taliban as majority of the Pakhtoons are likely to join them. And, in that scenario, suicide attacks, bomb blasts, targeted killings etc. are likely to be intensified in Pakistan.
In this context, on September 5, 2008, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), Gen Tariq Majid had exactly pointed out that such cross-border drone strikes would further alienate the locals, proving counterproductive.
More importantly, air strikes on Pakistan’s soil will especially lead to sustained Taliban attacks on the NATO supply lines through the Chaman border of Balochistan and Torkhum of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
By playing a double game with Islamabad, under the pretext of Talibanisation and lawlessness, the US could increase its air strikes and ground shelling in the tribal areas along with Balochistan. America may also demand to send NATO troops in Pakistan alleging that nuclear weapons are not safe. On the other side, even our armed forces will be compelled to stop military operations. In that situation, the democratic regime will be forced to leave the US war against terror.
Nonetheless, a perennial wave of missile attacks on FATA and Balochistan will certainly result in more unity among the elected government, security forces and the general masses, consequently massive hostility towards Washington. In that scenario, American policy of liberalism led by moderate and democratic forces in Pakistan could badly fail, giving a greater incentive to the fundamentalist and extremist elements in the country.
If America isolates Pakistan by imposing sanctions, such an act will also cause drastic impact on the US war on terror, not only in our country, but also in Afghanistan where US-led NATO forces are already facing defeatism, damaging its interests in the region, which are part of its global strategy. This action is likely to undermine international efforts of stability both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is mentionable that France, Germany and Australia are reluctant to maintain their troops in Afghanistan for a long time because of casualties and insecurity. So frustrated in Afghanistan, in case of targeting Pakistan’s regions through drone strikes, most of the American allies could leave the US war against terrorism, and a greater rift will be created between the US and other NATO members.
US must also realize that in case of widening and accelerating the course of drone attacks, coupled with any prospective NATO military action on our soil, both Iran and Pakistan might stand together to frustrate the US strategic designs. Further an alliance of both the countries with Syria would make the matter worse for Washington. In that worse scenario, a vast region from Pakistan to Somalia and Nigeria to Iraq will further be radicalized, bringing about more terrorism, directed against the Americans. However, in such adverse circumstances, American worldwide interests are likely to be jeopardized in these countries including whole of the Middle East where the US has already failed in coping with the Islamic militants directly or indirectly, and where in some Arab countries, anti-American resentment is already running high in wake of the violent protests against the pro-American rulers.
These negative developments will further reduce the US bargaining leverage on hostile small countries. In this context, determination of Iran and North Korea to continue their nuclear programme, Syrian stand for Palestinian cause and refusal of the Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez to yield to the US pressure in relation to oil supply might be cited as an instance.
After fighting a different war for ten years, American cost of war which has already reached approximately 6 trillion dollars will further increase—decline of dollar and acute recession inside the country will give a greater blow to the US economy vis-à-vis other developed countries. Intensity of these problems is likely to lead America towards downfall. In this respect, disintegration of the British Empire and the former Soviet Union offers a harsh lesson to Washington. Now, by drone attacks on Pakistan, the US will to face the same fate in its worst form. Nevertheless, these unjustified strikes are likely to sabotage American regional and global interests in wake of a continued war against terrorism.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations