By Sajjad Shaukat
At this sensitive moment, when Pak-US diplomats are negotiating a complex issue of restoring the NATO supply routes across the country to Afghanistan, while some American top officials have claimed that both the countries are near to sign an agreement, US has accelerated drone attacks on Pakistan. In the last 11 days, CIA-operated pilotless aircraft killed more than 30 people in North Waziristan besides South Waziristan.
We cannot see American strikes by the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on FATA in isolation, because these are not only part of the US other pressure tactics on Islamabad to obtain favourable terms and conditions regarding new relationship with Pakistan but, are also scheme of anti-Pakistan campaign.
At this delicate hour, US duress is also growing on Islamabad in one way or the other to restore NATO supply lines. In this regard, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 24 denounced as “unjust and unwarranted” the treatment of a Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi who was jailed for 33 years for helping in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Notably, so as to further pressurise Islamabad for release of Dr. Afridi, US Senate cuts $33m aid to Pakistan. Obama’s top military adviser Martin Dempsey on May 28, appreciated the decision of the Senate, while on May 29, a US Conservative Senator Rand Paul suggested to suspend all Pak aid until Dr. Afridi is released.
On the other side, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan, while rejecting the criticism on Dr. Afridi’s sentence in high treason case, urged the US to respect its legal system. He elaborated, “It is our internal matter and Dr Shakeel Afridi would be treated under the law of the land.” He further disclosed that, a local court of Khyber Agency had sentenced Afridi for spying for the US secret agency, CIA which had led to US raid on Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. Reliable sources confirmed that Dr Shakeel Afridi had close ties to the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Islam and the CIA.
Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives on May 17, 2012 linked Pakistan aid to resumption of NATO supplies by nearly unanimously endorsing an amendment which would block payments in Coalition Support Fund, while debating the National Defence Authorisation Act—amendment could block up to $650 million payments to Pakistan. Although White House has revealed that US President Obama will veto the said bill, yet it is part of American coercive diplomacy and double game with Pakistan. Such diplomacy could be judged from the fact that in the recent past, America’s President Obama has defended predators’ attacks, while on May 7, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had stated that the US would continue drone strikes against militant sanctuaries in Pakistan, even if Islamabad keeps opposing them.
On May 21, US President Obama also met Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of NATO summit amid widespread reports that the US deliberately pressurised Pakistani president to meet US-NATO demands for reopening the supply route. But President Zardari told Obama that drone attacks must be stopped, while pointing out Pakistan’s demand for US apology over the November 26, 2011 unprovoked Salala check post incident which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
In its latest statement, the White House has ruled out an apology to Islamabad for the November 26 Salala attack. In this context, about Pak-US dialogue, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman has already clarified that matters regarding apology for Salala attack and end to drone attacks would be taken up with the US as decided by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet as approved by the parliament regarding re-engagement with the US in light of recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS). Both Pakistan’s civil and military leadership has already refused American unilateral demands in relation to the issue of NATO supply lines.
However, America wants earlier restoration of NATO transport routes across Pakistan, and seeks to adopt Pakistani routes for withdrawal of their troops and vehicles from Afghanistan, while, US high officials and NATO leaders recognise that they cannot obtain stability in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan. But at the same time, US is making the ongoing talks with Islamabad more complicated through its drone attacks.
Nevertheless these strikes by spy planes include American multiple designs against Pakistan. Firstly, as part of US shrewd diplomacy, America wants to fail the ongoing negotiations with Pakistan, and intends to show other NATO countries that Islamabad is not willing to open the NATO supply lines, thus it created obstacle in the way of completing the exit schedule of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014. Secondly, US can convince other NATO states to conduct full-fledged air strikes on Pak tribal areas or Haqqani network, based in North Waziristan which sends militants to destabilise Afghanistan as American top military officials have continuously been blaming Pakistan in this regard in order to conceal their misadventure in Afghanistan.
Surprisingly, on the one side, America still seeks to conclude peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban through the Qatar-based dialogue, while on the other; it has accelerated drone strikes to thwart the recent offer of militants and Pakistan government for peace talks, and to provocate the tribal people, thus causing more recruitment of insurgents, resulting into more suicide attacks inside the country. Major aim behind these strikes is also to alienate the locals, and incite the insurgents of FATA against Pakistan’s the security forces.
Although Washington has re-started these strikes as part of US covert war against Pakistan in wake of subversive acts, arranged by CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad in order to destabilise our country for their collective strategic designs, yet these drone attacks are counterproductive for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In fact, drone attacks on FATA which continued intermittently on Pakistan’s tribal areas since 2004 have intensified under the Obama era, killing more innocent people than a few Al Qaeda commanders. 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.
In this respect, New America Foundation pointed out in a recent report, “when the US drones attack Pakistan’s tribal areas, it is not just the 10 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 activities. Could it not imply that it killed 10 militants and gave birth to another 1400?”
While, strained relations already exist between the US and Pakistan, if attacks by pilotless aircraft keeps on going, targeting FATA, even the government will be compelled to stop military operations in tribal areas. In that situation, the democratic regime will be forced to leave the US war against terrorism.
As regards public backlash, Pakistan’s ruling party has been facing strong pressure from the opposition and religious parties in relation to NATO supply. The PML-N has said that it would not accept any deal with US, if the government did not make decision in the light of the recommendations of the PCNS. And Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Imran Khan has opposed resumption of NATO supply routes, and warned that his party would launch “nation-wide protests” against the regime, accusing it of failing to carry out parliament’s mandate for an unconditional apology from the US and a cessation of drone strikes. In this context, the Defence of Pakistan Council organised rallies against the possible restoration of supply line for NATO forces. In these terms, another purpose of drone attacks is not only to distort the image of Pak Army and Air Force, but also to create a rift between the security forces and the public.
It is mentionable that sometimes US high officials, admit that stability cannot be achieved in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan after the withdrawal of foreign troops and sometimes, realise that US wants to improve its relationship with Pakistan, but at the same time, they blame Islamabad for safe-havens of militants in the country. While in connivance with India and Israel, America has been continuing its subversive acts by supporting militancy in Pakistan and separatism in Balochistan to weaken this country.
Taking note of the US double game in wake of US illogical drone strikes and undue pressure over the sentence of Dr Shakil Afridi, Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt General Zaheerul Islam has postponed his scheduled visit to the US.
Nonetheless, at this critical hour, US has accelerated drone attacks to fulfil its multiple sinister designs against Pakistan as America seems to take the relationship of both the countries to the point of no return so as to complete its hidden agenda against Islamabad.
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