Failure of US Drone Policy

Sajjad Shaukat


CIA-operated drone strikes which continued intermittently on Pakistan’s tribal areas since 2004 have intensified after the death of Osama Bin Laden in the country.

In 2006, in one of the most lethal strikes, an unmanned air vehicle killed 69 children, among 80 civilians in Bajaur Agency. On August 11, 2011, while quoting the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, The Telegraph reported, “As many as 168 children have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan during the past seven years.”

In another major drone attacks, more than 40 civilians and policemen were killed on March 18, 2011 in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. 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 further explained, “Such an act of violence takes us away from our objective of elimination of terrorism…security of the people of Pakistan, in any case, stood above all.”

Particularly, gravity of that attack triggered a backlash in North Waziristan and other tribal areas. In this regard, tribal elders in North Waziristan Agency vowed to avenge the US-backed drone strike. 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.”

On August 11, 2011, in an extensive analysis of open-source documents, a report of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism gave the true picture in relation to the the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan. The report says, “The CIA claims that there has been not one non-combatant killed in the past year. This claim always seemed to be biased advocacy rather than honest fact. Indeed, the Guardian recently published some of the pictures we have obtained in the aftermath of drone strikes. There were photos of a child called Naeem Ullah killed in Datta Khel and two kids in Piranho, both within the timeframe of the CIA’s dubious declaration.” While rejecting CIA’s false claim about casualties, the report reveales, “It is a bleak view: more people killed than previously thought.”

In the last three years, more than 700 innocent civilians and only 14 Al-Qaeda commanders have been killed by the US unmanned air vehicles.

Notably, regarding drone attacks and casualties, New America Foundation said in a recent report, “when the US drones attack Pakistan’s tribal areas, it is not just the 10, 20 or 50 innocent civilians they kill, but it creates the anti-US sentiments among masses…the civilian killings provide reason to the youngsters for joining terrorist groups waging war against US and of course Pakistan…while killing 10 militants through spy planes, the US has murdered more than 1400 Pakistanis not involved in any terrorist or extremist activities. Could it not imply that it killed 10 militants and gave birth to another 1400?

It is mentionable that despite the protest of Pakistan’s civil and military leadership, and setting aside the resolution, passed by the parliament, this drone policy which started during the Bush era has intensified under the Obama Administration—without bothering for the fact that these attacks have been sabotaging American interests. These strikes are likely to affect war against terrorism in Pakistan, but American policy makers do not bother for any internal backlash.

Instead, Washington is considering a strategy of widening the course of predator attacks as part of Obama’s covert war in Pakistan, which will also include Balochistan. In this respect, on January 22, 2010, The New York Times indicated: “the C.I.A. is expected to double its fleet of the latest Reaper aircraft—bigger, faster and more heavily armed than the present Predators…by extending these strikes to Balochistan.” The Times also realized that the drones undermined the larger war effort.

However, a perennial wave of these strikes is not without some American hidden agenda. The main purpose behind the innocent killings is to provocate the people and cause more recruitment of the Pakistani Taliban, resulting into more suicide attacks inside Pakistan. In fact, America has been indirectly supporting the Pakistani Taliban in order to destablise Pakistan because it is the only nuclear country in the Islamic world, which irks the eyes of US, India and Israel. Therefore, besides provocating Pakistanis, CIA is also helping RAW and Mossad in arranging continuous subversive activities such as suicide attacks, bomb blasts and targeted killings in Pakistan.

Recently in one of its diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks confirmed that there were enough evidences of Indian involvement in Waziristan and other tribal areas of Pakistan as well as Balochistan.

It is mentionable that strikes by the US predators will effect Pakistan’s military operations against the Taliban militants, sabotaging successes achieved in Swat, Buner and Dir—especially in South Waziristan.

It is of particular attention that 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.

In this regard, 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.

Besides, air strikes on Pakistan’s soil will lead to sustained Taliban attacks on the NATO supply lines through the Chaman border of Balochistan and Torkhum of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

At this critical juncture, strained relations already exist between Washington and Islamabad as the US is playing a double game with Pakistan—if pilotless aircraft continues targeting Pakistan’s regions, 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 terrorism.

While, 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.

If America isolates Pakistan by imposing sanctions, this 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 facing defeatism, damaging American 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, while the US-led NATO forces are going to withdraw from Afghanistan.

US must also realize that in case of widening and accelerating the course of drone attacks, both Iran and Pakistan might stand together to frustrate the US strategic designs. Moreover, 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. Nevertheless, 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 rival small countries such as Iran, North Korea, Syria Venezuela etc.

It is noteworthy that after fighting a different war for ten years, American cost of war which has reached approximately 7 trillion dollars will further increase in wake of debt crisis, decline of dollar and acute recession including other-related financial problems inside the country. These will give a greater setback to the US economy as compared other developed countries. Intensity of these problems is likely to lead America towards downfall. Now, by continuing drone attacks on Pakistan as part of its covert war, the US is likely to face the fate of the former Soviet Union in its worst form.

Nonetheless, implications of these attacks by the CIA-operated unmanned predators indicate failure of the US drone policy.

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


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