Hits and misses
News reports recently suggested that the US drone program came very close to achieving one of Zarb-e-Azb’s main benchmarks – elimination of Mullah Fazlullah – when a strike last week took out four or five key TTP commanders a few days ago. Yet more serious research, appearing in the British media on the same day, suggested that during the long hunt for 24 people on President Obama’s ‘kill list’, drone attacks have claimed close to 900 innocent Pakistani lives; a good number of them women and children. The analysis, prepared by UK based group Reprieve, collected facts from reported instances, of course, which means the real number must be higher.
While the Pakistani foreign office duly ‘condemns’ each drone strike, there is a need to make a stronger case, one that goes beyond the foreign office’s rehashing of the same, ineffective line. Half a year into Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan can make a much stronger case regarding recurring drone attacks. Especially now, when the military has clearly begun netting Haqqani and Gul Bahadur militants, Washington’s main rationale for the attacks is gone. Pakistan is clearly ‘doing more’. In fact, it is the Afghans who are now playing the spoiler role. Their harbouring of militants fleeing the NW operation fits the same pattern that the Americans charged Islamabad with for most of the war against terrorism.
Significantly, these findings also pose serious questions to the American government’s claims that the drones provide far cheaper and precise attack options. Clearly, close to a thousand collateral deaths on the hunt for two dozen people signifies that predator and reaper drones aren’t exactly the ‘target killing’ machines they are made out to be. And since innocent Pakistani lives are being lost to prove this point, there is an urgent need for Islamabad to take up this matter with Washington. Not only do the Americans violate Pakistani airspace and kill innocent people, they also keep much of what they achieve, or miss, in the dark. The public has never been informed about the necessity of the drone option, or what exactly it has achieved in the last ten years. The government set a precedent of getting Americans to halt these strikes during the talks that preceded the operation. They must go a step further this time, and make a case of removing this option altogether.