The Establishment's true lies

Updated 29 Apr 2019


Activists of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) hold up a burning mock drone aircraft during a rally against drone attacks in Peshawar May 13, 2011. - Reuters Photo
Activists of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) hold up a burning mock drone aircraft during a rally against drone attacks in Peshawar May 13, 2011. - Reuters Photo

The WikiLeaks' cables on drone attacks in Pakistan by the Americans have finally confirmed what’s been an open secret albeit sans official admission: the authority in charge of the security policy in Pakistan – the army and its chief General Pervaiz Kayani – has privately sanctioned them while publicly vociferously opposing them.

While post 9/11, it was General Pervez Musharraf who shaped up the security and foreign policies aligning them with the American war on terrorism, principally against al Qaeda and centered on the Af-Pak theater, there is evidence now that even his successor General Kayani was so convinced of the general efficacy of US drone attacks in the tribal areas that he not only had an agreement on two "air corridors" for strikes identified by the Americans but also put one of his own, the third corridor, on the table. This happened as far back as in early 2008, when he made the request to Centcom chief Admiral Fallon, just a few months after taking over from General Musharraf as the army chief.

On the face of it there is little wrong with a military strategy that works in a time of war with a stated policy objective of eliminating an identified enemy combatant – al Qaeda and its militant supporters. It made sense that if the Pakistani state and its military's objective was the elimination of this target and if they did not have complete control over some tribal areas' regions that served as near perfect haven for al Qaeda strategists, coordinators and implementers, and that Pakistan's ally the US had superior and precise air wherewithal to zoom in on the targets with lethal accuracy that it should be allowed to do so. After all the Pakistanis and Americans are supposed to be on the same side.

It is, therefore, not the success of the policy of effective drone strikes against al Qaeda and its militant supporters in private that has puzzled the people. It is the fact that the frequency of drone attacks has escalated since 2009 and so has the army and the government's public opposition to them. This 'opposition' was despite the cooperative agreement in place between Washington and Islamabad that has not run the risk of breaking down until American spy Raymond Davis was nabbed in Lahore on a mission investigating the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba strategy complex.

The burgeoning oddity of public censure of the US drone attacks by General Kayani in a statement describing an attack that killed 38 in one such attack in March 2011 and full support to the policy of the attacks in private (requesting specific attacks) that have confused the public. This was perplexing since Kayani's officer in charge of the troops in North Waziristan (where Americans have been demanding a full invasion by Pakistani forces), General Ghayyur Mahmood only a few days earlier had publicly attested to the success of the drone attacks strategy saying they were successful in taking out al Qaeda and Taliban militants, not civilians.

It seems that since there has been no discernible effort to reduce or even address the confusion, it serves a tactical purpose for the army, which has a strong tradition of manipulating public opinion to add muscle to its negotiations for tactical shifts with the US. The Raymond Davis saga is a case in point. To negotiate an adjustment in American intelligence presence in Pakistan, the army orchestrated a campaign by rightwing parties and religious and sectarian outfits through unending public demonstrations and rallies as well as by manipulating the electronic media to take anti-American sentiments to dangerous heights.

However, it is telling that when Osama bin Laden was taken out by a unilateral American military operation in the heart of Pakistan in early May 2011, there were no public protests by any groups either against the US action or in support of bin Laden. This is because the military and the intelligence agencies did not activate them as a bargaining tool because they had been caught in the monumental embarrassment of ignorance and worrying ineptitude about bin Laden's presence right under their nose and the perplexing inability to be on guard against an invasion by even a friendly state.

Activating these pro-Establishment forces would only have shone the light brighter on the military’s shortcomings. The Abbottabad raid blew the lazy lid over Pakistan's duplicitous approach to policy implementation – opposition and compliance on the same policy: running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. Or to put it bluntly, keeping the public in the dark and keeping up with the Americans in private.

While the WikiLeaks cables tell us little the public has not suspected or known before, they confirm that the government in general and the army in particular have a formal policy of deceiving the public on national security issues. This raises the serious question of legitimacy of the security policy and foreign policies and the actions of the state.

The government must remove the cobwebs of deceit and come clean and openly state the policy of zero tolerance against al Qaeda and its supporters and the support for drone attacks that the army and government admit in private are successful. And the army must stop its unilateral control of the national security policy and provide protection to the president and prime minister for visits to the tribal areas. It is outrageous that they say the region is not secure enough their visit and yet the army chief goes there regularly. While tactical aspects of a security policy need not be consulted with the public, there should be no two versions of truths about policy.

Adnan Rehmat is a journalist, analyst and media development specialist. He heads Intermedia, a Pakistani media support NGO.