Feature

Pakistan gets serious about U.S. drones

Last week’s drone strike has created “fresh tension in ties between the U.S. and Pakistan.”

Why hasn’t the U.S. yet grasped the lesson of blowback? asked Nawa-i-Waqt in an editorial. Last week’s U.S. drone strike on sovereign Pakistani territory, the first such invasion since the Pakistani elections, killed the No. 2 leader of the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP. The Americans believe that constitutes a victory. But at what price? There is now “fresh tension in ties between the U.S. and Pakistan.” Incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the attack not only a violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also “a violation of international law and the U.N. Charter.”

Sharif is furious that the U.S. has “sabotaged” any chance he had to negotiate with the TTP, said Jasarat. The assassinated militant, Waliur Rehman, “was a supporter of talks and peace in Pakistan.” Killing him “clearly means that the U.S. does not want peace in Pakistan.” Sharif is indeed angry, said S.R.H. Hashmi in the Lahore Times, but that doesn’t mean he’ll take any action. The Obama administration has justified the strikes by saying that the U.S. is “at war” with al Qaida and the Taliban. But the bombs are dropping on Pakistani soil. This can only mean “that the U.S. also firmly believes it is at war with Pakistan.” Is Sharif prepared to respond?

If the government won’t act, then the opposition will, said the Pashtun Post. Former cricket star Imran Khan can hit the U.S. where it hurts. His PTI party has been uncompromising in its demands that the government ban drones, saying it would otherwise act on its own to “compel the U.S. to stop.” That’s no empty threat, said Kaswar Klasra in The Nation. Khan’s party governs the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa—and it is now “seriously mulling” cutting the NATO supply line that passes through its jurisdiction. Such a move would cripple the U.S. effort to pull troops out of Afghanistan next year. Remember in 2011, when a U.S. strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, and Pakistan shut off the supply routes? The U.S. “had to incur losses of millions of dollars on air transportation of supplies.”

It’s not that we don’t want these militants killed, said Farooq Yousaf in The Express Tribune. The TTP is an enemy of Pakistan, and most of its terrorist attacks kill innocent Pakistanis. “On the face of it,” killing one of its leaders “means Pakistan has one less thing to worry about.” And doing it by drone strike probably does protect civilians, since the type of huge Pakistani army operations that would be required to hunt down Rehman in the tribal region would kill and displace many civilians. Still, even a sole civilian killed by American drones inflames passions and recruits ever more militants to the Taliban’s cause. The late TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud said that it took him months to “win hearts and minds” among the local population through outreach. But, he said, “a single drone attack brings the whole village to my side.”

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