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Frank admission: The drone debate


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PERVEZ Musharraf’s admission on a foreign TV channel that Pakistan was in the know about US drone strikes inside this country during his rule only confirms what has been suspected for a long time. The retired general’s frank disclosure is in stark contrast to the state’s long-standing policy — including the period of Gen Musharraf’s rule — of denying any role in the drone war. The statement shows, among other things, that the state can be economical with the truth, showing one face in public, and another in private. There have been indications in the past about Pakistans knowledge of the strikes, such as WikiLeaks cables stating that the Americans kept the government informed, as well as the vacation by the US military of the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan in the aftermath of the Salala incident; the base was believed to be a launching pad for drone strikes. It is difficult to say when (and if) information-sharing on drones ceased, though the CIA is believed to have stopped obtaining advance Pakistani approval sometime in 2008. The Raymond Davis affair in 2011 further soured relations between the US and Pakistani intelligence set-ups, thus affecting how the drone war was being executed.

Regardless of when the Americans decided to go solo with drones, the fact remains that unilateral strikes create multiple problems for Pakistan. Their legal status is murky. There are no substantiated figures for collateral damage but estimates have suggested that hundreds of civilians have died in drone strikes, along with suspected militants. Collateral damage adds to creating more militants while unilateral strikes fuel anti-Americanism in Pakistan. The UN has taken serious note of the situation, with its special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights saying that the strikes violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Within the US establishment itself, some senior officials have questioned the long-term effectiveness of the drone campaign.

Drones have taken out some high-profile militants, but they have arguably done more harm than good to counterterrorism efforts. If drones are needed, Pakistan must give its approval while the weapons must be used only in areas that cannot be accessed by Pakistani troops. If the drone campaign had tacit government approval during the Musharraf era the issue of violated sovereignty did not arise. That is why the Americans need to take Pakistan on board if drones are indispensable. Once there is cooperation, the government must take ownership of the drone war and tell the public why the strikes are necessary. Basically, more openness is required from both Washington and Islamabad.

Comments (8) Closed

Kamal Khan Apr 14, 2013 07:23am
Very well said... the hypochrisy should finish. More transparency would bring more trust
kausik Apr 14, 2013 10:38am
Lack of Transparency is a big problem in subcontinent more so in Pakistan as Dictator thinks no need to inform public and truth is distorted as they did and lied facts about 4 wars with India not that India did not twist facts but the press was more open and probing and now with tv and internet, Facebook,twitter etc it is difficult to lie as abbotabad incident showed on internet and twitter
cautious Apr 14, 2013 02:50pm
The core issue hasn't changed. Islamabad actually controls only 1/2 the territory that it holds out as sovereign and the militants who control that territory attack your neighbors and allies/with impunity. Pakistan needs to eliminate those militants and allow all the people of Pakistan the same rights, privileges and responsibilities. You fix that and the drone issue resolves itself.
Ravi Apr 14, 2013 06:42pm
Because of non-transperancy of actions of goverment, conspiracy theory makers have good reception in Pakistan and it also helps troublemakers and terrorists who kill innocents to hide behind those conspiracies.
Sultan Apr 14, 2013 07:08pm
The issue is when ever the Americans told pakistan about a strike esp if it had a prominent target, they ie the target, was tipped off and thus the mistrust between the two countries. This is a well known fact. Its well known the drones have done our dirty work that we should have ourselves done it. And then we cry foul. Arent we Pakistanis at the pinnacle of hypocrisy? No party in this whole affair is an angel but when it comes to hyopcrisy, double crossing and beguilement, we take the cake. Shame isnt it. We cant clean our house and hire outside help and when they do, we cry foul.
HNY2013 Apr 14, 2013 08:50pm
one day it will be disclosed that the raid on OBL was also sanctioned by the govt and army
Mustafa Apr 14, 2013 09:15pm
Eye opening news. Pervez Musharraf did best to allow Americans to use drones to kill militants and terrorists to save Pakistan despite collateral casualties which is unavoidable in times of war.. I have a fear that Pakistanis of today are incapable or reluctant to wipe out militants and terrorists in Pakistan and are opposed to outsiders wiping out militants and terrorists in Pakistan using Drones. Those who dwell on support and votes of militants and terrorists and their sympathizers and helpers and financiers should know that either you wipe out the militants and terrorists or the world will wipe them out but they cannot distinguish between militants, terrorists and peace-loving people when a lawless country is attacked by a superior power. I have a fear that the militants and terrorists and all Pakistanis will have the same fate. May Allah give wisdom to Pakistanis.
RAB Apr 14, 2013 09:33pm
Problem is Pakistan has long lost it's right to tell the US to behave itself. Will the US ever run drone flights over India to assasinate people ? Not a chance. Because the Indians owe the US nothing.