111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

The bigger picture

Pervez Musharraf’s revelation that US predatory raids within the territorial limits of Pakistan had the conditional consent of Islamabad is hardly revealing save that it comes straight from the horse’s mouth.Contrary to the official position here, the widespread view both at home and abroad has been that the CIA’s drone strikes on suspected targets inside Pakistan, which started in 2004 when the retired general was at the helm, are carried out with a nod of the powers that be.

If the former president is to be taken at his word, the caveats that Pakistan attached to the drone attacks stipulated that the same would be of a limited number, to be made only when necessary and with surgical precision so as not to cause collateral damage.

However, these conditions have been set aside by the Americans as 884 civilians have perished in 366 strikes (source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism, London). Musharraf’s admission coincided with a New York Times report claiming that the spy agencies of the two countries had struck a secret deal back in 2004 for the predatory raids.

The drone attacks may be seen from two angles: as a matter of policy and as a matter of principle (international law, morality, human rights). The predatory raids constitute an important component of Washington’s counterterrorism strategy. The Americans are convinced that the drone raids are an effective means of uprooting the militants’ network in our tribal areas, which they see as the epicentre of global terrorism.

That the predators cause collateral damage is hardly questioned by the Americans, though the extent remains a matter of dispute. For them, what matters are the intended results that the strikes have or can bring about. Therefore, irrespective of its moral and legal character, Washington will continue using this weapon as long as it is convinced of its utility.

As per the official position, Pakistan has opposed drone attacks on two grounds: they run counter to the state sovereignty principle and they kill civilians. The basic American argument in support of the legality of the drone strikes is that they’re done with the approval of the Pakistan authorities.

The argument then goes that if one state authorises another to use its territory, no violation of sovereignty has taken place. Another American argument is that the strikes are made in self-defence as the US is fighting an international war against the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Since Pakistan’s north-western region, the argument continues, is the prime sanctuary for the militants of these two outfits, Washington is well within its right to strike there.

It has also been argued that the collateral damage wrought by the predators is too serious to be winked at, not only on ethical grounds but also for pragmatic reasons. The death of civilians, apart from being a grave human right violation, begets hatred against the US as well as the Pakistan government and creates more militants than are killed by the drones.

The collateral damage also makes it difficult for Islamabad to sell its counter-militancy campaign to the people of Pakistan. The greater the collateral damage, the more severe the opposition to the war on terror and the stronger the demand for pulling out of the counterterrorism alliance with Washington.

Such an argument carries substantial weight. The war on terror can hardly be won unless the government goes all out against the militants. This will hardly happen until society puts its weight behind government efforts. This makes the drone strikes a self-defeating exercise. That said, the fact that the US is persisting with the drones shows that it’s not convinced of such reasoning.

There are then two possible explanations of the continuation of the drone raids: One, Islamabad is convinced that its merits outweigh its demerits and therefore has consented to the predatory raids. Two, Islamabad realises that, given the relative strength of the two countries, it simply can’t bring the raids to a halt.

Shooting down drones, as demanded by some right-wing parties, hasn’t found favour with the decision-makers since the consequences of such a decision will be too serious. So either by conviction or by compulsion, complicity or cowardice, Pakistani authorities have acquiesced in the strikes.

Intense as the debate over the legality and utility of the drone raids is, it should not make us lose sight of the bigger problem – terrorism. The raids are not so much the cause as the effect of terrorism.

The scourge of religious militancy that we’re facing clearly predates the drone raids. People were being killed in the name of religion long before Pakistan joined hands with the US in the wake of 9/11. Hence, the predatory strikes didn’t give birth to the militancy.

Nor would their termination bring an end to it. While it is good to speak out against the drone strikes, one must also keep the bigger picture in view. And the bigger picture is that Pakistan is an epicentre of religious militancy, as well as facing an existential threat from it.

For several years, our tribal regions have been a safe haven for militants from different parts of the world for whom killing is a ‘religious duty’ and blood sport is a favourite pastime. If the drones mock at our national sovereignty, so do the militants whom they target. Besides, while the drones aim at killing only terrorists, the militants take the lives of innocent people in cold blood.

The impact of militancy has gone beyond the death of innocent people to result in the growing militarisation and brutalisation of society in the name of ‘Islamisation’. The militaristic view of Islam has made such a great impression that a large section of society extols fanaticism and bigotry, enthrones violence and brutality, looks down upon dissent, and has no taste for reason and logic.

Over the last decade, the human and economic cost of religious militancy has been enormous, with thousands perishing and billions being washed away. Nothing is safe from the onslaught of the militants, who are not in the least shy of wading through blood. Women are being rendered widows, children turned orphans, and parents are being made childless. Businesses have been forced to shut or dislocate, growth and investment have fallen and people made jobless. Our people are left with fear and an acute sense of insecurity.

Regrettably, a large section of society continues to support the militants one way or another and an even larger section continues to refuse to take ownership of the war.

They also deny that the terrorists, particularly when they target a place of religious significance, are Muslims and maintain that it’s the work of infidels, who are antagonistic to Islam as well as Pakistan, because it is the sole Muslim nuclear state. Thus, though people are shocked and shaken when terrorists strike at mosques and shrines, they can hardly bring themselves to believing that such a heinous act can be authored by Muslims.

Unless this state of denial is cast aside and the ownership of the war on terror affirmed, we’ll continue hunting with the hounds and running with the hare in the fight against militancy and our unenviable predicament of being hated by the militants and simultaneously suspected by the Americans will persist.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail.com

Hussain H Zaidi, "The bigger picture," The News. 2013-04-24.
Keywords: Government-Pakistan , International law , Drone attacks , Human rights , Armed forces , Decision making , Social policy , Religious issues , Al-Qaeda , Journalism , Terrorism , Muslims , Taliban , Islam , Musharraf , United States , Pakistan , Washington , London , Islamabad , CIA , 9/11