What’s a drone strike between friends?



The Pak-US breakdown is much deeper


Modi has set new strategic goals, including more effective cooperation with the US in securing the balance of power in Asia and defeating terrorism in the South Asian subcontinent and beyond


Pakistan’s relations with the US have undertaken a downward slide not on account of the recent drone attack but for more important reasons.

The foremost reason is the emerging defence ties, deeper than ever before, between the US and India. The Modi government has pursued three crucial bilateral agreements — the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMA), the Communication and Information Security Memorandum (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).

The two countries have devised an ambitious framework for defence cooperation with identification of a number of weapons projects for co-development and co- production.

Modi has set new strategic goals, including more effective cooperation with the US in securing the balance of power in Asia and defeating terrorism in the South Asian subcontinent and beyond.

The outlines of a mutual understanding on implementing the civil nuclear initiative emerged after Delhi opened purposeful negotiations with the US on resolving three issues at hand — American concerns about India’s Nuclear Liability Act, India’s demand for a quick closure on the terms of international safeguards, and Washington’s support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

In his statement with Obama on the joint vision for Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean, Modi decisively repudiated the ambivalence towards the United States which characterised the previous Indian government. The two leaders also agreed to “develop a roadmap that leverages our respective efforts to increase ties among Asian powers, enabling both our nations to better respond” to the emerging diplomatic, economic and security challenges in the region.

What is more both Obama and Modi are determined to expand bilateral cooperation on counter-terrorism and homeland security. The two have emphasised “joint and concerted efforts to disrupt entities such as Lashkar-e-Tayba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, D Company and the Haqqani Network”.

There is enough in this to upset the Pakistani establishment

The second issue that has worried Pakistan is the spanner thrown in the works by the House of Representatives by stopping the Obama administration from using foreign military financing to subsidise the sale of eight F-16 aircraft to Pakistan to the tune of US$429 million.

It is frustrating for the establishment that fresh conditions have also been attached in the $602 billion National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) passed by the House which would block $450 million in aid to Islamabad unless it does more to fight the Haqqani Network.


The PTI was up against the US on account of the drone attacks. It decided to block the road in KP leading to Torkhum. The Nato supplies from KP side remained suspended for nearly three months


The bill requires the Pentagon to certify that Pakistan is conducting military operations to disrupt the Haqqani Network, not letting the network use North Waziristan as a safe haven and actively coordinating with the Afghan government to fight the network along their border.

The drone attack that killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour has caused more embarrassment than resentment. Those who have been denying the presence of the Taliban leadership in Pakistan didn’t know how to explain the Taliban chief’s presence deep inside Balochistan. Any claim that the ISI was unaware of his presence would not have been taken seriously while it would have amounted to conceding that the spy agency had shown unforgiveable inefficiency.

The death of Mullah Mansour, who was the ISI’s handpicked successor to Mullah Umar, was a big loss to his patrons. The message sent was that henceforth undesirable Taliban leaders would be taken out wherever they are located in Pakistan. The Taliban would not be allowed to use the province as a sanctuary, a meeting place or a departure-cum-arrival lounge for traveling to and from other countries.

When all is said and done, a single drone attack could not have had a catastrophic effect on the relations between the two countries.

Neither the army nor for that matter the political leadership has ever taken a principled stand against drone strikes. Both connived at drone attacks whenever it suited them and opposed them when it didn’t.

In April 2013 Musharraf admitted on CNN he had a secret deal with the US on drone strikes. The admission broke Pakistan’s policy of blanket denial of involvement. Musharraf said Pakistan gave permission “only on a few occasions, when a target was absolutely isolated and [there was] no chance of collateral damage”.

This was not an individual’s decision though, the military ruler clarified. Musharraf said the strikes were discussed “at the military [and] intelligence level” and cleared only if “there was no time for our own [special operations task force] and military to act. That was… maybe two or three times only”. Musharraf added: “You couldn’t delay action. These ups and downs kept going… it was a very fluid situation, a vicious enemy… mountains, inaccessible areas.”

Pakistan’s army under Musharraf requisitioned the drone attack that killed Taliban commander Nek Muhmmad Wazir in South Waziristan. The DG ISPR Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi in fact maintained that the attack was conducted by Pakistan’s own military which possessed precision weapons to target enemies. It was not considered advisable to tell the people it was an American drone attack.

While Gen Kayani would openly condemn drone strikes, what is shown by Wikileaks is something different. The Wikileaks cables dealing with 2011 reveal that US military’s drone strikes within Pakistan had more than just tacit acceptance of the country’s top military brass despite public posturing to the contrary. The cables state that the country’s military was requesting the US for greater drone back-up for its own military operations as far back as January 2008. According to the cables, the US account of Kayani’s request for “Predator coverage” does not make clear if mere air surveillance were being requested or missile-armed drones were being sought.

The attacks on Baitullah Mahsud (August 2009), Qari Hussain (October 2010) Ilyas Kashmiri (June 2011) were all supposedly requisitioned by a government that found itself helpless before the terrorists.

The civilians were no different.

Pakistan’s elected leaders have often told the US it should continue the drone attacks not minding their government’s protests which are only meant for public consumption.

According to a 2008 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks US ambassador Anne Patterson reported a discussion in August that year about drone strikes during a meeting with the then Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and the then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Yousaf Raza Gilani is reported to have brushed off criticisms of the drone program, saying “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”

In Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars”, Asif Ali Zardari the then president of Pakistan is said to have privately voiced an identical sentiment to ex-CIA chief Mike Hayden, around the same time: “Kill the seniors. Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.”

Before coming to power Nawaz was totally against the drone attacks. A month before he assumed power a statement issued by the Sharif’s media cell said drone attacks were not only a violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also an action that has been declared as a violation of international law and the UN Charter.”

PML-N’s Interior Minister Ch Nisar threatened the US of reviewing ties in response to the killing of TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud in a drone attack on Nov 1, 2013.

But as the PTI announced it would close the roads in KP to deny supplies to US and allied troops , Sharif developed second thoughts. By December 2013, the prime minister was opposing protests against drone attacks. He warned that his political rivals engaged in anti-drone protests were t pushing the country into isolation in the international arena and said his government desired peace and friendship with other countries

The PTI was up against the US on account of the drone attacks. It decided to block the road in KP leading to Torkhum. The Nato supplies from KP side remained suspended for nearly three months. For quite some time the party continued to oppose drone strikes and expose the government for failing to take a tough stand.

Since the beginning of the Operation Zarb e Azb the PML-N and PTI had ignored the several drone attacks that have taken place. Both had reconciled with the attacks.

The attack that killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour has led to routine condemnation. The sound and fury that once characterised Ch Nisar and Imran Khan’s response is altogether missing.



  1. Pakistan's obvious duplicity is once again revealed to the world… another major terrorist found living freely in your country?… the nicest thing that can be said is that Pakistan is untrustworthy… unfortunately,there are several other less complimentary words that could be said about you too…

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