Since 2004, the United States has made hundreds of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) controlled by the CIA’s Special Activities Division. Some parts of the media refer to the series of attacks as a “drone war.” The covert program has become a flashpoint for tension between the United States and Pakistan.
In Pakistan, the strikes are often linked to the mushrooming of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and have opened the scope and extent of CIA activities in the country to question. As a result, Islamabad publicly condemns the attacks. But, at the same time, it is evident that Islamabad has also secretly shared intelligence with the United States and allegedly allowed the drones to operate from within the country.
Islamabad denies the group’s presence on Pakistani soil, but Washington pays little attention to such denials and retaliates by using drones…
Reports that there was a secret deal between the United States and Pakistan permitting the drone attacks surfaced as early as 4 October 2008, in the Washington Post. In February 2009, U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairperson of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said, “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.” Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, denied this.
However, according to secret diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks, Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani not only tacitly agreed to the drone flights but also, in 2008, requested the Americans to increase them. Yet today, Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik claims the drone missiles cause too much collateral damage. A few militants get killed, but the majority of victims are innocent citizens, says Malik.
Barack Obama vastly accelerated the drone program after becoming U.S. president in 2009. A list of the high-ranking victims of the drones was provided to Pakistan in that year, and the Obama administration broadened the attacks to include targets seeking to destabilise Pakistani civilian government. For instance, the attacks of 14 and 16 February 2009 targeted training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud, the then chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Barack Obama vastly accelerated the drone program after becoming U.S. president in 2009.
More recently, since abandoning the counterinsurgency policy adopted briefly during 2010–2011, when General Stanley McChrystal headed the ISAF in Afghanistan, the United States and NATO, under General Petreaus and then General John Allen, have repositioned a large contingent of troops in eastern Afghanistan to carry out counterterrorist attacks on the Taliban and other insurgents operating from bases inside Pakistan’s tribal area—North and South Waziristan, in particular. After the killing of Osama bin Laden, the United States turned its attention to the Haqqani network, now considered the most lethal foe the ISAF troops face and based, according to Washington, in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area.
Islamabad denies the group’s presence on Pakistani soil, but Washington pays little attention to such denials and retaliates by using drones to go after the network members. At his final appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 22 September 2011, before he retired, U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, stated that the Haqqani terror network “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.” Admiral Mullen’s statement had been said in private earlier, but before that day, had never been put on the record by a senior U.S. official.
…the Haqqani terror network “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.
A day later, in an article, “A New al-Qaeda in Pakistan,” in Daily Beast, Tara McKelvey wrote, “The Americans fear that the Haqqanis have become increasingly lethal and effective in the region, even as the U.S. thins out al-Qaeda’s top leadership and capabilities. The main difference is that the Haqqanis don’t aspire to global action; they are focused solely on their power base in Southern Asia. But aided by ISI, they could become an increasing menace in the region, on par with al-Qaeda.” American officials have long accused the Pakistani military of having ties with terrorists, and they reportedly discussed the Haqqani fighters with Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI, pointed out McKelvey during one of his 2011 visits to Washington.
The founder of the network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, once helped assemble mujahideen fighters who stood up against the Soviet army in Afghanistan, and he served as minister of tribal affairs for the Taliban. After the Americans invaded Afghanistan, he turned around and set his fighters against the U.S. troops. Today, the network has between 4,000 and 12,000 fighters, reports the New York Times, and it is run by Haqqani’s 36-year-old son, Sirajuddin.
Miramshah serves as the headquarters of the al-Qaeda–linked Haqqani network,
One of the targets of U.S. drone-fired missiles is the bazaar of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. “Miramshah serves as the headquarters of the al-Qaeda–linked Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban subgroup that operates in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and is supported by Pakistan’s military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate,” says Bill Roggio in the Long War Journal on 14 June 2012. “The town serves as one of the ‘ground zeros’ of terror groups based in North Waziristan, a U.S. intelligence official has told the Long War Journal. Other main centers of terror activity in North Waziristan include Datta Khel, Mir Ali and the Shawal Valley.”
The first drone attack on Miramshah on record took place on 17 March 2010 and killed Sadam Hussein Al Hussami, also known as Ghazwan al Yemeni, and three other al-Qaeda operatives. Hussami was a protégé of Abu Khabab al Masri, al-Qaeda’s top bomb maker and weapons of mass destruction chief, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in South Waziristan in July 2008. Hussami was training al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters to conduct attacks in Afghanistan and outside the region and was a key planner in the suicide attack on Combat Outpost Chapman that that killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer. The slain intelligence operatives were involved in gathering intelligence for the hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders along the Afghan–Pakistan border, Roggio said.
Mansoor ran training camps in the area and sent fighters to battle NATO and Afghan forces across the border.
The next strike on the bazaar took place almost two years later, on 8 February 2012, when the United States killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al-Qaeda leader. Mansoor ran training camps in the area and sent fighters to battle NATO and Afghan forces across the border. He also linked up members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen with al-Qaeda to fight in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden described Mansoor as one of several commanders of al-Qaeda’s “companies” operating in the tribal areas. He was later promoted to lead al-Qaeda’s forces in the tribal areas. In very recent days, U.S. Predator/Reaper drones have begun pounding the Miramshah bazaar once again, killing militants and some civilians as well.
WHERE WILL THE ROADS LEAD?
Despite all that has happened and the many other incidents of substance that could happen in the near future, there is no doubt that some kind of workable relationship between the two will emerge. Should that expectation bite the dust, Pakistan will become even more unstable. It is also important to point out that such a “workable” relationship will, however, be limited. Any trust between Islamabad and Washington has vanished completely. It is well-nigh impossible to re-establish that trust unless a sea change occurs in the leadership of both countries.
Pakistan’s other demand at this point is for the United States to stop the incessant drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal area.
After Osama bin Laden was eliminated, some pundits claimed that the existence of Osama in Pakistan—with Pakistan claiming ignorance all these years—had been a unique sticking point that kept the relationship unstable. His death would clear the way for better relations, they said. And some in the United States even went so far as to claim that bin Laden’s death would help pave the way for a political settlement in Afghanistan by making it easier for the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Those pundits have been proven wrong; not only did they fail to understand Taliban–al-Qaeda relations, they also missed the fact that by 2011, Osama bin Laden was a mere “passenger” within the terrorist community, not in the driver’s seat.
Considering the pieces that have been placed on the table by each side, it is not difficult to start a working relationship. Pakistan demands of the United States an apology for the deaths of at least 24 Pakistani soldiers caused by ISAF shelling at the Salala outpost. Washington will lose nothing by extending this apology, particularly since the investigative report prepared by USCENTCOM investigators has enough evidence to establish the fact that malcommunication and other inadequacies led to the shelling.
Pakistan’s other demand at this point is for the United States to stop the incessant drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal area. There is no doubt that the U.S./NATO troops want to weaken, if not eliminate, the Haqqani group and other insurgents working in that area. But Washington must also realise that these insurgents are Pakistani citizens and that the terrain is such that it is extremely difficult for the Pakistani military, good in conventional warfare but virtual novices in dealing with insurgents who do not play by the rules, to deal with them effectively—and act accordingly. The Pakistan military will earn very few friends at the cost of creating legions of enemies if it carries out the kind of military campaign that Washington demands.
The most important thing for Washington is to acknowledge that the foreign troops are being attacked by tribal militants simply because the foreign troops are there. If they leave Afghanistan, threats from the Haqqani group will vanish instantly.
The onus to open the supply lines, and thus pave the way for developing working relations, lies with the United States. If Pakistan withdraws its demand for an apology for the killing of its soldiers by the ISAF, accepts the drone attacks as legitimate and viable, and reopens the supply lines, Washington might be thrilled. But acceding to these U.S. demands will decisively strengthen the anti-American Islamic jihadis within Pakistan and seriously weaken both Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Is that what the Obama administration wants?
having a hostile Pakistan blocking its exit route will surely exacerbate the difficulties.
Washington is now in the process of making plans to withdraw from Afghanistan. Even if it does not want to leave with all its bags and baggage, having a hostile Pakistan blocking its exit route will surely exacerbate the difficulties. Moreover, should the United States want to maintain a few thousand troops permanently in Afghanistan, continuing to identify Islamabad as an enemy nation and act accordingly will not make that a very viable prospect. A working relationship with Pakistan, on the other hand, could help Washington forward its plans to sort things out with the Afghans before their partial withdrawal from that country in 2014.
Despite statements issued from Washington from time to time expressing the absolute necessity of improving relations with Pakistan, the “my way or the highway” attitude in Washington is evident. While U.S. negotiators sat in Pakistan cooling their heels, U.S. defence secretary Leon Panetta, skipping over Pakistan to visit India and Afghanistan, issued statements designed to antagonise Islamabad. In Kabul, he said, “We are reaching the limits of our patience, and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action to prevent this kind of safe haven.” It is not clear what he meant by that; but what is clear is that it was meant to nettle Islamabad.
And, predictably, that happened. Days after Secretary Panetta issued a seemingly veiled threat, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, in Kabul, attending a conference, asserted once more that Pakistan wants an apology for a NATO cross-border strike that killed two dozen of its soldiers last year before it will consider reopening supply routes to foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Islamabad is well aware that Lavoy is a mere intelligence officer, not a diplomat. Is it any surprise then that General Kayani refused to meet him?
Finally, when the United States announced in early June that the Obama administration would send a high-level envoy to start talks in Islamabad, who did it send? It sent an assistant secretary of defence, Peter Lavoy, a mere intelligence officer. When the situation called for sending someone at the secretary level, Washington chose to send a lightweight, who sat around for three days in Islamabad seeking a meeting with General Kayani and returned on 10 June with nothing to show.
To begin with, sending Lavoy to resume talks was a nonstarter that could only have been meant to indicate Washington’s unwillingness to reopen talks. Islamabad is well aware that Lavoy is a mere intelligence officer, not a diplomat. Is it any surprise then that General Kayani refused to meet him?