Drone attacks diplomacy

K.N. Pandita

Killing of TTP chief Hikmatuallah Mehsud along with five more commanders of TTP in a recent American drone attack has triggered a new debate in Pakistani political circles.

Baitullah Mehsud, the predecessor of Hikmatullah and the founder of Tehrik-e-Taliban-i-Pakistan (TTP), a confederate of Al-Qaeda-Afghan Taliban and also in liaison with Haqqani and Hekmatyar terrorist groups was killed in drone attack in 2009.  

TTP spokesperson Shahidullah cast doubts on Pakistan civilian government and the army colluding with the CIA in latter’s drone attacks in North Waziristan. In a statement he said, “We were waiting for a meeting while Pakistan army and government were sitting with the US finalising a deal to “sell” us”.

Unnerved by the belligerent mood of the TTP, Pakistan foreign office summoned the American Ambassador Olson in Islamabad and conveyed to him Pakistan’s disapproval of drone attacks. The Ambassador, without elucidating his remark, remained content with saying that the talks were internal affair of Pakistan and the US had nothing to do with that

Pakistani Interior Minister, Chowdhury Nisar vexed eloquent saying that the attack and killing of Hikmatullah and his five top commanders was a deliberate attempt of the US to sabotage peace efforts poised to begin by facilitators.

Pakistan official circles were vociferous in publicising their so-called efforts of opening dialogue with TTP. Nisar claimed that a delegation of ulema was about to leave for Miranshah to hand over the letter of invitation to talks to the TTP leadership when the drone attack happened and their 5-week long strenuous efforts of initiating a dialogue with the TTP ended in smoke.

The American Ambassador was also told the same story that the drone attack had watered down all attempts of bringing peace to the disturbed area…

The fact is that after Baitullah Mehund was killed in a drone attack in 2009; his successor Hakimullah Mahsud had orchestrated suicide attacks on US interests. In a suicide attack on a US base in Afghanistan, 7 CIA staffers were killed by the attackers. He had trained one Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American national, who had attempted bomb attack in Times Square New York in May 2010 but was nabbed by the sleuths before he could execute his plan.

The US had announced 5 million dollar bounty on the head of Hikmatullah Mehsud. Obviously, Pakistan’s so-called peace talks with the TTP could not stand in the way of the US carrying forward her fight against terror.

The question is whether there is any truth in Pakistan’s claims that much spade work had been done, and the ground was prepared for initiating talks with the TTP. Previously also rumours like this were floated. There are strong indications that the TTP had repeatedly turned down the offer of talks and had laid down some pre-conditions for talks which no government in Islamabad could concede.

For example, TTP’s pre-condition was that all its prisoners be released from jails whose number runs in thousands and Pakistan army is withdrawn from FATA. Evidently pre-conditions like these will not be acceptable to Pakistan when the TTP has been clashing with it so often and the army has lost around 3,000 pers.

In an editorial the Daily Times of Pakistan said that government’s claim of preparing for talks is doubted by TTP because the latter had set forth unacceptable conditions. It said, “Certainly, there was no indication so far that the TTP were willing to come to the negotiating table and in fact had set such unacceptable prior conditions such as release of all their prisoners and withdrawal of the army from FATA that indicated a lack of seriousness on their part. Theirs appeared to be a tactical position of fighting while creating the maximum confusion in the public’s mind about the talks process”.

The TTP believe that Pakistan government is in cahoots with the US and CIA having a common understanding on continuance of drone attacks in North Waziristan. Many Pakistani observers and media persons feel that a sort of understanding does exist between the US and Pakistan in regard to drone attacks.

This controversy erupted when Pakistani Senate demanded that government apologize for giving incorrect statistics about civilian casualties resulting from drone attacks in North Waziristan. The number of drone attack civilian casualties announced by the government being far too less than what is computed by non-governmental sources, an impression has been gathered that the Government and the Army are trying to play down the damages on the behest of the Americans.

While Pakistani government considers the killing of the Taliban leader a fatal blow to its efforts to stop violence in the country through dialogue, some political observers suggested the Pakistani authorities would be thankful to the US for killing the most wanted man whose hands were stained with the blood of thousands of innocent Pakistani civilians.

On the basis of controversy over the number of casualties, the TTP and their sympathisers as well as some political analysts and media persons in and outside Pakistan presume a secret agreement between Islamabad and Washington on the issue of drone attacks.

Hinting that the drone attacks are made with the consent of Pakistani government, the Washington Post, on the basis of leaked CIA reports and its Pakistan Memos wrote in a recent issue that differences in the figures of casualties show that Pakistan gave its approval to the drone attacks under clandestine deal with CIA.

Ben Emmerson, a UN expert investigating drone strikes, said in October that the Pakistani Foreign Ministry told him at least 400 civilians have been killed by drone strikes since the attacks started in 2004. Associated Press reported Emmerson calling on the Pakistani government to explain the discrepancy.

More observers have reflected variously on the spectre of drone attacks. Any absence of US-Pakistan collusion was debunked by US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee member Alan Grayson, who recently told the BBC Urdu service that if Pakistan wanted it, then drone strikes “could end tomorrow”. Remarking on the strength of the Pakistan Air Force, Grayson also said that “these strikes would not be possible if Pakistan did not facilitate them”.

Media reports say that during his meeting with President Obama, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the issue of drone attacks saying that Pakistanis resented it and that US should stop them. The President told him that if his conviction was that terrorism should be eradicated from Pakistan then he should not only support but appreciate drones destroying them. If the theory of Pak-US secret drone understanding is to be believed then what the media gave out on Nawaz and Obama talk appears a cover up. Daily Times concluded the editorial as this: “The current Pakistan government has been vociferously condemning the attacks, though the reports released by the US media on the eve of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Barrack Obama’s meeting in Washington reiterated that drone attacks in Pakistan are carried out with the consent of the Pakistan government, its protests being meant to allay domestic resentment.”

Pakistani jihadi organizations vociferously demand cessation of drone attack failing which they would press for closure of Karachi-Khyber transportation route for American supplies. Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has threatened to bring a motion in the NWFP assembly. But strange to say, that none thinks of asking the jihadis to stop violence and hatred against people. The so-called brave warriors of the Frontier are not able to find protection against drones even in caves and hideouts.

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