Pakistan and the Predator drone

February 2, 2008

Predator drone file photoWhy send in American troops, when a drone will do? Reports that al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libi was killed in North Waziristan by a missile launched by a CIA-operated Predator aircraft (see file photo, right) have spawned a fresh batch of analyses about U.S. involvement in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Here are some of the more insightful ones:

In Pakistan’s The News, Peshawar-based Rahimullah Yusufzai says the American policy of hitting targets inside Pakistan has now become the  norm rather than the exception. “In a way, the latest missile attack by the US military in North Waziristan has rendered meaningless the need for permission to the Americans to hit targets in Pakistan. Their troops may not enter Pakistan but they can always use their superior air technology to attack positions and suspected hideouts of the militants in our tribal areas bordering Afghanistan,” he writes.

From the other side of the border, B. Raman, a former chief at the Indian intelligence agency RAW,  says the U.S. missile strike may have queered the pitch in what he says are secret negotiations between the Pakistani Army and leaders of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in North Waziristan in order to drive a wedge between Baitullah Mehsud and other leaders of the Tehrik.
Protest in Peshawar 

In The New York Times,  Selig S. Harrison argues that Pashtun civilian casualties resulting from Pakistani and American air strikes on both sides of the border are breeding a potent underground Pashtun nationalist movement which could contribute to the break-up of Pakistan. “The Bush administration,” he says, “should scrap plans to send Special Forces into border areas in pursuit of al Qaeda, which would only strengthen Islamist links with Pashtun nationalists.”

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[…] Attacks by Predator drones are already highly controversial in Pakistan. So how does the United States build ties with democratically elected allies in Pakistan if it is also launching missile strikes on Pakistani soil without asking permission from those same allies? It seems hard to believe that either the government or the army would welcome unilateral U.S. action. So how will Washington square the circle?  […]

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