Nobody wants drones but…

Courtesy: Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The US may have no other choice but to use them

The PTI and its allies, as announced by Imran Khan, staged a sit-in on Ring Road, Peshawar, on Saturday to block the NATO supplies. Though the blockade was called off after the leaders finished their addresses, the PTI vowed to block the NATO supplies not only in the province but throughout the country. The PTI chief urged the prime minister to go beyond mere condemnations and order shooting down the drones, saying it was a defining moment for Pakistan to choose between disgrace and self-respect.

The drone attacks in Pakistani territory, whether in the tribal region or the settled areas, undoubtedly constitute breach of our sovereignty and territorial integrity and there are no conflicting views in regards to the desirability of stopping these attacks in any quarter including the government. However, there is a difference of opinion on the modalities to achieve this objective. Nobody wants these drone attacks but the dilemma is that we are dealing with the sole superpower in the world bent upon taking the war on terrorism to its logical end by every conceivable manner and drone attacks form an integral part of its strategy to eradicate the menace of terrorism. It has paid scant attention to UN146s disapproval of the continuation of drone attacks, the reports of Amnesty International and other international human rights organizations on the legality and humanitarian aspects of the US actions and the continuous pressure exerted by the Nawaz government.

The present government has been the most vociferous advocate of the discontinuation of these attacks and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his visit to US utilized all available forums to press home this point and even during his encounter with President Obama he twice raised this subject. The fact that President Obama made no commitment on halting these attacks amply demonstrates that the US presently does not consider it feasible to revisit its policy on drone attacks within Pakistani territory to target the terrorists.

It is my considered view that the US will not stop these attacks until the US-NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan unscathed with Pakistan facilitating the exit uninterrupted, given the conclusion of the security agreement between the US and Karzai government and rapprochement between the Taliban and Karzai regime. The recipe being suggested by Imran Khan and his allies, including Jamaat-e-Islami, to block NATO supplies at this critical juncture will obstruct and delay the process of US exit from Afghanistan. The shooting down of the drones, as suggested by Imran Khan, though our air force is very much capable of accomplishing the task, will tantamount to going on a warpath with the US.

Is Pakistan capable of defending itself against the wrath and the might of the US and will we be able to defend our sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-respect in case of that eventuality? Will it not be suicidal for Pakistan to tread the path of confrontation with the US? These are the questions which need to be answered by the proponents of the belligerent disposition towards the US. The blustering by Imran Khan might go well with the masses due to its emotive hue but it is not a rational course to deal with the situation.

Our relations with the US are multidimensional and do not solely depend on cessation of drone attacks or otherwise. While it would be legitimate and right strategy on part of Pakistan to continue agitating the issue with the US and at all available international forums through a sustained diplomatic offensive, it would not be wise to put all our eggs in one basket and have them smashed with one stroke. We have to look beyond Afghanistan and see how best we can protect and serve our long term national interests in the fast changing regional and global security environment.

The government146s response to the impasse and continued US disregard of our concerns and protestations, barring the indiscretion committed by the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, has been very restrained and within the ambit of diplomatic parlance which is the right way of conducting relations between the two states. The prime minister though firmly rejected the continuation of the drone attacks calling them abusive and cruel, but avoided the emotional binge to hold the US responsible for all the chaos in the country.

The Nawaz government presently is engaged in facilitating the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to end the strife in that country. A number of Taliban leaders, including Mullah Baradar, have been released to nudge the process of reconciliation. Presently, a delegation of the Afghan High Peace Council is on a three-day visit to Pakistan. The delegation met the prime minister and appreciated his efforts in regards to the reconciliation between the stakeholders in Afghanistan. The delegation reportedly also met Mullah Baradar in this regard.

This is the right course and a welcome paradigm shift in Pakistan146s policy towards Afghanistan. In the backdrop of the possible US withdrawal from that country, Pakistan146s interests, unlike the past, will be best served by abandoning the 145strategic depth146 narrative and seeing Afghanistan only as a brotherly and friendly neighbour.

If Pakistan is able to bring about the change in Afghanistan and facilitate the US-NATO exit from that country, it would not only settle the issue of drone attacks but would also go a long way in tackling the menace of terrorism which is threatening its territorial integrity both from outside and within the country.