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Thursday, 22 January 2009

Pakistan's sovereignty, America and the Taliban...

American drones and Taliban terrorism

An important visit by the chief of US Central Command (CENTCOM), General David Petraeus, on Tuesday ended on a note of disagreement in Islamabad. President Asif Ali Zardari “expressed concern” over the US drone attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas in his meeting with him. But to no avail apparently. While General Petraeus tried to sound upbeat about Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism by calling them “sacrifices”, Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman General Tariq Majid called on “outside powers” to stop demanding Pakistan do more: “Repetitive rhetoric by some of the external players asking Pakistan to do more and prove sincerity... Such unhelpful statements must stop”.

One Pakistani “sacrifice” that the US has decided to do without exclusively is the supply route of the NATO-ISAF forces going through Pakistan. General Petraeus said in Islamabad that he had visited Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and reached agreements with them about an alternative route, and that this includes the support of Russia. The decision to find an alternative route was taken after a series of attacks near Peshawar destroyed convoys of large carrier trucks, resulting in theft of equipment by the Taliban. Some thought that the attacks were a reaction to America’s refusal to accede to Pakistan’s request to stop drone attacks inside the Pakistani territory. But this doesn’t stand to reason because the theft of equipment has led directly to the beefing up of the Taliban resistance to the Pakistan’s military efforts to regain lost territory in the Tribal Areas.

The Americans have taken the trouble to go back to some of the Central Asian states they had offended not long ago for the route concession. This tells us how important they think the drone attacks are for them. In particular, the approach made to Russia in the wake of President Bush’s anti-Russia line on the question of the Russian invasion of Georgia and the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO signals a new direction of policy under President Obama. Washington is apparently satisfied by the terrorist-casualties the drone attacks have claimed. A number of important Al Qaeda leaders have been killed. This gibes with the common US-European understanding that these attacks have pressured Al Qaeda into looking to its own security and not plan more attacks in the West.

The opinion at the popular level in Pakistan is intensely opposed to the drone attacks and, derived from there, to the policy of allowing a transit route for supplies meant for NATO forces in Afghanistan. The media interprets drone attacks as an American violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The PPP government in Islamabad is therefore opposed to the attacks. Equally, the army, once tacitly accepting under General Pervez Musharraf, now seemingly rejects them. To the outside world, however, this protest looks ironical because Pakistan’s sovereignty is more completely destroyed by the Taliban and Al Qaeda than America. Recent news that Osama bin Laden’s son has moved from Iran to Pakistan because of the “improvement” of his security situation in Pakistan’s lost territories must have aroused the world’s impatience with Pakistan’s stance.

In the coming days, President Obama’s policy of beefing up forces in Afghanistan and offering Pakistan an aid package it cannot resist will cause a lot of internal strife in Pakistan. The government will find the “package” irresistible, but the army may pay less attention to questions related to the survival of the national economy. Since the media and the public opinion in Pakistan are greatly incensed at drone attacks, the government may find the job of caring for the economy more difficult. How unfortunate. (Daily Times)

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