Pakistan: Reopening the NATO Supply Route and Drone Attacks
Pakistan: Reopening the NATO Supply Route and Drone Attacks
By Sajjad Shaukat
Recently, Pakistan reopened the NATO supply route across the country to Afghanistan after accepting a US apology regarding the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011 by an American air strike on the Salala check posts. But after a few days of signing the agreement, a US drone attack killed 21 people in North Waziristan.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman, who played a key role in Pak-US deal, said on July 9 that Pakistan had not given any go-ahead for American drone strikes on its territory in exchange for Washington’s apology over the Salala attacks, calling these strikes violations of the international law.
Earlier, Sherry Rehman stated that Pakistan and the US are set to resume broader talks on other issues in the wake of an agreement to reopen NATO supply routes. She added, “I certainly think it opened the door to many other issues…[B]oth sides can use this opportunity to build a path to durable ties.”
Even at that sensitive moment when Pak-US diplomats were negotiating the complex issue of restoring the NATO supply routes, the US accelerated CIA-operated Predator strikes. After a two-month pause in the aftermath of the Salala incident, these strikes by the unmanned aircraft continued, killing more than 60 people in North Waziristan.
During his recent visit to India, while pampering New Delhi, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta repeatedly pointed out that drone attacks would continue on safe havens of terrorists in Pakistan. Even President Barack Obama has defended these strikes on the FATA under the pretext of a so-called counterinsurgency programme.
In fact, attacks by spy planes are part of the American covert war against Pakistan. Although without bothering about the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, the US has re-started these strikes by pilotless aircraft to destabilise our country for the collective strategic designs of US-allied India and Israel, yet these strikes are not only counterproductive for Pakistan, but also for the US itself.
In the last three years, more than 700 innocent civilians and only 14 Al-Qaeda commanders have been killed by US unmanned air vehicles.
Regarding strikes by the unmanned aircraft and casualties, the New America Foundation pointed out, “when the US drones attack Pakistan’s tribal areas, it is not just the 10, or 50 innocent civilians they kill, but it creates anti-US sentiments among masses…[T]he civilian killings provide reason to the youth for joining terrorist groups waging war against the US and of course Pakistan….While killing 10 militants, the US has murdered more than 1,400 Pakistanis not involved in any terrorist activities. Could it not be implied that it gave birth to another 1400 militants?”
Notably, the major purpose of the fresh wave of drone strikes was to thwart the recent offer of militants and the Pakistani government for peace talks, and to provoke these tribal people for more subversive acts inside the country. In this regard, the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which rejected the Pak-US agreement has intensified acts of sabotage in Pakistan. For example, it killed seven soldiers and a policeman on July 9 near Wazirabad.
The US should take note of the internal backlash in Pakistan. While, denouncing the drone attacks, leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (PML-N) presumed that the rulers opened the NATO routes after a secret deal with the US. Besides, Chairman Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and Syed Munawar Hasan, Ameer of Jamaat-i-Islami, including other religious parties, have also rejected the Pak-US reconciliation process. These parties are propagating about a “secret agreement” between Pakistan and America. They have continued protests, rallies and processions in various cities of the country over Islamabad’s decision to reopen NATO supply routes, while the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) launched a long march.
The Americans must know that there is a co-relationship of stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sporadic strikes by unmanned predators on Pak tribal regions will cause a drastic impact on the US war on terror, not only in Pakistan, but also in Afghanistan where US-led NATO forces are facing defeat. This action is likely to undermine international efforts of stability both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, jeopardising American interests, while foreign forces will complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. In this context, high US officials, especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have repeatedly said that the US needs Pakistan’s help for stability in Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario.
In this respect, while meeting Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on the sidelines of an international conference in Tokyo on the future of Afghanistan, Hillary Clinton remarked on July 8 that the United States and Pakistan “are putting past tensions behind, so we can focus on many challenges ahead.” Ms. Clinton explained that she had a broad-ranging discussion with her counterpart on resolving some of the issues surrounding the reopening of border routes.
Nevertheless, US drone warfare against Pakistan will be counterproductive, bringing about other dire consequences for the United States itself. In this context, both Iran and Pakistan might stand together to frustrate US strategic designs. Moreover, their alliance with Syria would make the matter worse for America. In that scenario, a vast region from Pakistan to Somalia and Nigeria to Iraq and the Indian-held Kashmir will further be radicalised, bringing about more terrorism, directed against the Americans.
Thus, American worldwide interests are likely to be jeopardised in these countries and the whole Middle East where the US has failed in coping with Islamic militants directly or indirectly, and where in some Arab countries resentment among the people is already running high against pro-American rulers. These negative developments will further reduce the US bargaining leverage on rival small countries such as Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, etc.
Now, European governments are cutting defense budgets, while the US is increasingly tilting towards defense challenges in Asia. In this drastic situation, NATO’s other members, which are facing economic problems, have little appetite for American foreign adventures. They even will be reluctant to fund American permanent military presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO troops as announced at the Chicago summit.
Particularly, after fighting a different war for ten years, America’s cost of war which has reached approximately 8 trillion dollars will further increase in the wake of a debt crisis and other-related financial problems inside the country. These will give a greater setback to the US economy as compared to other developed countries, while European countries hold the United States responsible for the global financial crisis. In this context, a greater rift will be created between the US and other Western countries.
Even in the US, in May of this year, the Pentagon has been under orders to cut spending by $487 billion from projected defense over the next decade as the Obama administration tries to rein in its trillion-dollar deficit. Realising the ground realties, the majority of US lawmakers prefer public welfare programmes. While Americans are protesting against the prolonged war in Afghanistan, including drone attacks especially on Pakistan. Some American media anchors have also started opposing these strikes.
Nonetheless, in reply to the criticism of the opposition parties, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has repeatedly stated that Pakistan had not engaged in any “secret deal” with the US for reopening the NATO supply routes. She openly pointed out that Pakistan will continue talks with the US over drone attacks and other issues.
Besides other related matters, Predator strikes on FATA could create a greater impediment in settling other issues between Pakistan and the US.
Now a positive a shift has occurred in Pak-US ties. If strikes by the spy planes keep on going, the Pakistani government will be compelled to leave the US war against terrorism due to public backlash. The flawed US policy will certainly culminate in more unity among the elected government, security forces and the general masses, consequently massive hostility towards America. In that scenario, the US policy of liberalism and democracy could badly fail, giving a greater incentive to the fundamentalist and extremist elements in Pakistan.
It is hoped that after the reopening of NATO supplies, and for its own regional and global interests, the US will stop drone attacks on Pakistan.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations