The drone dilemma


My cellular network could not have been Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s network of choice during the days they occupied Swat because it doesn’t work in the bloody mountains. The network that I subscribe to raises the slogan of ‘Connecting People’. But it is not always good to do that, especially if the people you connect are planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on the roadside. That is at least one moral dilemma avoided.
Dilemmas can be a good thing for they make you think. And thinking is useful, especially before you start uttering bafflingly inane praise for the Pakistani ‘establishment’. Over the past few weeks, I have been disgusted to read of people praising the Army chief for not interfering with the ‘political process’. When people in a country start being grateful for someone not subverting the constitution, you know that we live in odd times. More ironic is the latest wave of articles with people commending the Army Chief for ‘taking a stand’ against the drone attacks. Right then! Once you are done coughing to get over what I just said, try absorbing it. My first question is this: since when did someone who has the final say in most matters (regardless of expertise) need to take a stand? The Army high command exerts a nauseatingly powerful influence on whatever this country does. Therefore, the generals do not become heroes by dictating policy or by trying to save some bearded fanatics putatively providing ‘strategic depth’. They are not taking a stand against anyone by acting on a whim and being intransigent with the Americans.
When they started, drone attacks could not have taken place without the assenting of the Army. If you think otherwise, you really are naïve and confronting truths is not for you. Please stop reading and if I ever write for a ‘Sunday mag’, we can meet again. Since the PPP government took office, the media has largely ignored the role/power of the Army and has raised fingers at the politicians for allowing an alleged ‘violation of this country’s sovereignty’. There is no doubt that the politicians did not do a good job of selling the idea of drone attacks. Personally I think there is a very good case for allowing US drone attacks. But glaring is the fact that the Army high command never accepted its role in allowing the drone attacks and now seems to be enjoying the right-wing wrath hurled at the PPP. There is a word for it, schadenfreude; pleasure felt at another’s misfortune. The Army high command is not being naïve when it refuses to accept uncomfortable truths; it is being clever. And we need to make them realise that we are not dim-wits.
Concomitantly, we need to question the reasons why drone attacks are suddenly being opposed by the Army. Has the ISI developed human rights related concerns that it was lacking before? It seems highly unlikely. Our military’s links with jihadists need to be questioned and brought to light. If you have read your Ahmad Rashid, you would be worried. Instead of dismissing America’s concerns we must engage with them. Our sovereignty has been violated innumerable times with a militant Wahabi mindset exported from Saudi Arabia along with petro-dollar Islam. I have always seen the drone attacks as a tacit agreement between two sovereign nations and hence legitimate. Unpopular (because the rationale is misunderstood) but legitimate. The world has legitimate concerns about terror brewing here. And our military has clearly not been able to deal with terrorists’ sanctuaries that continue to thrive.
In such a context, drone attacks make a lot of sense. Even the militants have given interviews saying that drones threaten them the most. Those who claim to have a problem with collateral damage caused by drones need to answer why do they not raise their voices when our own Army carries out operations the details of which we are never told or which we can never verify. In 2007, our military created a huge issue after a Madrassah in Bajaur was bombed by a drone. Newspapers here claimed that more than 80 children had been killed. Al-Jazeera later aired footage clearly showing that the Madrassah was a training camp for terrorists. No media outlet here aired that video.
Now our military high command is telling us that drone attacks convert people to terrorism and disrupt the fight against terror. Is this how myopic we have become? It is a mind-set that we are fighting; a particular distorted version of Islam that we need to correct from within. This violent brand of militant Islam has opposed nationalism, leaders struggling for independence, USA etc. The tools that Islamic militants use for propaganda and recruitment keep changing. Can anyone argue with a straight face that if Pakistani drones launched strikes, the militants would stop recruiting young minds? Pakistani drones will not stop mad mullahs from training suicide bombers. But Pakistani drones could mean a safer world for some of the mad mullahs; those our military protects. Now there is a question we need to raise. That is the violation of our rights and trust that we need to be worried about, not US drones.

The writer is a Barrister of Lincoln’s Inn and practices in Lahore. He has a special interest
in Anti-trust / Competition law. He can be reached at [email protected]