Pakistan vs U.S. Dumbing down the drones debate

April 14, 2011

tribesmen2If there was one thing the United States might have learned in a decade of war is that military might alone cannot compensate for lack of knowledge about people and conditions on the ground.  That was true in Afghanistan and Iraq, and may also turn out to be the case in Libya.

Yet the heated  debate about using Predator drones to target militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan – triggered by the spy row between the CIA and the ISI – appears to be falling into a familiar pattern – keep bombing versus stop bombing. Not whether, when and how drones might be effective, based on specific conditions and knowledge of the ground, and when they are counter-productive. 

Combined with that is a tendency to discuss the use of drones in isolation without taking account of the historical context (Pakistan and the United States have been rowing about this for several years – it is not new)  or indeed the broader political context (a botched drone attack by the CIA is guaranteed to enrage all the more if it comes at a time when American diplomats are trying to convince Pakistan they want to improve relations.)  

Consider, for example, the case of a tribesman with a performing monkey who gathered an audience of turban-clad, rifle-bearing men around him in a village in 2005. The U.S. controllers of the drone mistook the event for a weapons-training session or military briefing and dropped a missile, killing many in the audience.  That story was recounted by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, now head of the Pakistan Army, and quoted by Brian Cloughley in his book “War, Coups and Terror”. “This, said the General, was an example of lack of cultural understanding,” wrote Cloughley.

Then there was the botched drone attack on Damadola in Bajaur agency in 2006 – by some accounts it was intended to target al Qaeda deputy Ayman al Zawahiri.  According to the Pakistani version, many women and children were among the victims of the strike, enraging the local population, driving them into the arms of local Taliban militants and fuelling a ferocious insurgency which took the Pakistan military several years to contain.

In language that could have been written today (and it has) the Guardian reported at the time that Pakistan had lodged a strong protest with the Americans over the attack and “the strained relation between Pakistan and the U.S. has been pushed to breaking point.” It blamed the botched attack on faulty intelligence on the ground.

Compare that, though, to the killing of Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in a drone strike in 2009.  His death was welcomed by Pakistani authorities, and indeed by many ordinary Pakistanis who blamed him for bomb attacks in Pakistan. Good intelligence. Specific target. And probably the high point of cooperation between the United States and Pakistan over the use of drones.

Just last month, a senior Pakistani military officer was quoted as saying the drone attacks were effective, and most of those killed were hard-core militants, including foreigners.

But then another drone attack in North Waziristan in March killed more than 40 people, prompting a furious condemnation from Kayani, who said it had targetted a jirga of tribal elders. Remember this is the same man who complained about U.S. lack of cultural understanding in 2005 – there is some consistency here.

The timing – just after CIA contractor Raymond Davis was released from a Pakistani jail – could hardly have been worse. It raised questions about whether the drone operators were working completely independently of their political masters who at the time were engaged in trying to patch up relations with Pakistan soured by the Davis affair.  (So much for U.S. aspirations to put together an integrated military-civilian-political strategy.)

Those same questions on timing came up this week when a meeting between ISI chief  Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha and CIA director Leon Panetta in Washington to repair counter-terrorism cooperation was followed two days later by another drone attack. “It may have been for a very good reason and a quality target, but the politics of it look a little insensitive,” the New York Times quoted former CIA officer Bruce Riedel as saying.

It is difficult to predict the outcome of the latest row between Pakistan and the United States. The chances are the use of drones will continue, because under the right circumstances they can be useful to both countries. But at risk of stating the obvious, airpower needs good intelligence on the ground. While some have suggested that Washington go it alone without Pakistani help, the United States does not have a great track record in the kind of cultural expertise and linguistic skills that would allow it to hire its own reliable spies, let alone identify targets and avoid killing large numbers of civilians.

Of course there are other issues. The deep distrust between Pakistan and the United States which goes back to 9/11 and indeed before. The perception in Pakistan that drone attacks are an assault on its sovereignty, regardless of whether they are sometimes effective – a perception that bolsters support for, or at least tolerance of, Islamist militants.  The arguments of those who either reject the use of force altogether in the tribal areas, or find the unmanned Predator a particularly troublesome weapon. 

But all that said, dumbing down the debate on drones into what is effectively a reframing of the “with us or against us” dichotomy is unhelpful.  More interesting would be a discussion of how and when Predator drone strikes might or might not be effective; and indeed on how the drone missile programme, whose use is still officially a secret, might be integrated into overall strategy rather than operating on a moral, legal and geographical frontier whose rules none of us know.

Comments

KPSingh
I asked you some simple questions regarding division of Punjab which any historian worth his salt, coming from that area should ask. I asked your version of history assuming that you are Punjabi Sikh, perhaps I’m mistaken. Correct me if I’m wrong.
You, in front of everybody, distort my statements that I called you a Brahman (I didn’t know that it was an offense in any case). Is this what you call truth seeking method of historical investigations.
It is obvious that you parrot INC version controlled by Nehru family from day one. If not then tell me what your version. I’m willing to listen to truth, bitter as it might be.
What is this deal about outsourcing Indian foreign policy to south Indian politicians? Can’t trust Sikh PM, Nehru clan or is it the Catholic goddess.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx: “I asked you some simple questions regarding division of Punjab which any historian worth his salt, coming from that area should ask.”

Read the book “Freedom at Midnight” by Dominic Lapiere and Larry Collins. You do not need anyone’s version. These men are neither Indians nor Pakistanis.

Or read “History of India – Part II” by Perceival Spear (sic).

They provide quite detailed description of partition.

I am a Punjabhi Sikh. My grandmother comes from Gujranwala. She never saw her sister who disappeared into the mob.

I do know the story told by my parents and grand parents. But I rely on many sources to construct the picture. This is because of my concern about inherent bias. You claim to rely only on your parents.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

The last three Indian PMs were all doves on Pakistan (IK Gujral, AB Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh). The next one will very likely be a hawk, simply because the doves are out of touch with popular Indian sentiment and a correction is overdue. The Pakistanis had better grab this window of opportunity and settle quickly, because such an opportunity won’t come again.

India’s strength has been growing enormously all the while that the doves have been at the helm, which is why Pakistan hasn’t been negatively affected. If they think India is evil now, maybe they should wait till the hawks are in charge. The true extent of India’s dominance will then be revealed. Pressure on Beijing, Riyadh and Washington is relatively easy to exert in respect of a weakened Pakistan, especially if it’s presented as a stark choice (“Those who are not with us are against us”). A hawkish Indian government can subtly sink Pakistan, nukes or no nukes, without firing a shot.

I’m not personally an advocate of such power-based diplomacy, but this is my prediction. I believe the Pakistani establishment is being extremely short-sighted in driving a hard bargain even when they are weak, just because their opposite number is a dove. The tables will be abruptly when Manmohan Singh exits. He’s really their last shot at staying relevant or even surviving as a nation.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Typo:

The tables will be abruptly TURNED when Manmohan Singh exits.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

KPSingh
I would no doubt for a moment what your grandmother says and i fully share your pain. At least in mind you should be able to see Gujanwala, the place and the people, the good and the bad.
I have read many histories over years and most of them concern the thinking of leaders at that time. What bothers me is their lack of concern for ordinary people and I spare no one including the Brits. Whose bright idea was to transfer the population?
As far as current situation is concerned, whatever historical view they like is fine but don’t tell Pakistanis that their whole existence is based on falsehood and some body from across the border knows the truth and will lead to that truth.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

Parasad
Oh you got that secret weapon of subversion and more. I should be shaking in my boots but I don’t feel like it.
Have you developed super jawan who can fight thru baking heat and radiation.
Don’t tell me, keep the suspense.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

Humour: Like the US senate confirmation hearings, they should perhaps ask future Indian prime ministers, “Can you recite an Urdu couplet?” If the answer is yes, they should be gently escorted from the room where Pakistan policy is being formulated :-).

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx said:

> Oh you got that secret weapon of subversion and more. I should be shaking in my boots but I don’t feel like it.
Have you developed super jawan who can fight thru baking heat and radiation.
> Don’t tell me, keep the suspense.

You simply don’t get it, do you?

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Let me make it clear to those (this means you, Matrixx) who can’t seem to get out of their black-and-white thinking – I am neither a dove nor a hawk. I believe in neither domination nor appeasement. I am not a religious or ethnic bigot. I am a humanist and a futurist. I also think I am a realist, although to people who are more cynical, I may appear to be a dreamer. I describe the present and the future the way I see them, with just enough care to avoid needless offence.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, I don’t believe either the present or the future is very rosy, unless they make some drastic course corrections.

Jihad has blown up in their faces. There are more bomb blasts and assassinations in Pakistan than in India or Indian-held Kashmir. The terrorists are no longer under the control of the official establishment and are in many cases an adversary.

Fundamentalism is no longer a motivator against external enemies. It has now grown like a weed and strangled opinion and freedom within Pakistan itself. It has filled its own people with fear of reprisal for just speaking their minds. Fundamentalism has killed Pakistani democracy, not the lack of a free press or elections. This is now a self-censored society.

The Kashmir policy is a fiasco. The Kashmiris would rather go it alone than join Pakistan. What an embarrassment!

The Afghanistan policy is a shambles. The most hated country in Afghanistan is Pakistan. The most popular country is India! What humiliation!

The strategic relationship with the US is in shreds, and even the Americans have finally begun to wake up to the duplicitous nature of their ally. How long can a superpower be blackmailed and threatened? What will happen when the dollars stop flowing?

The Chinese are mining their raw materials and flooding their markets in exchange, ruining the economy both ways. They now control Gilgit-Baltistan with the willing surrender of the Pakistani government. They must be licking their chops and deciding when to declare Pakistan “South Xinjiang” and formally take over.

The printing presses are being diverted from printing fake Indian currency to genuine Pakistani currency on the orders of the State Bank of Pakistan, since taxing the rich and raising petrol prices are obviously out of the question. Here’s to the next set of Nobel laureates in economics for their thesis on how to sink an economy in the shortest possible time!

The India policy, needless to say, is the worst fiasco. Every attempt to take Kashmir by force has failed miserably. Making an enemy of India has caused half the country to break away. Even attempting to stall India’s economic success with the Mumbai terrorist attack backfired really badly with the live capture of Qasab.

Great work all around!

But what’s the response to criticism of short-sighted Pakistani policy? Oh, baking heat and radiation from a nuclear attack on India. Three cheers for Matrixx, intellectual analyst par excellence. I take off my hat to you.

Is there anyone out there with brains (in the right place)? We would like to have an intelligent discussion here.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Parasad
Your tone has changed dramatically from one to the next post. In your 9:30 post your argument hinges on new PM taking hard line coercive approach. In your 11:15 post the whole argument depends on Neocon failed state concept and propaganda associated with that. India has had secret dealings with Zionists for a very long time. It is also seeping through the current administration and becoming visible.
With futurologist like I have nothing to worry about.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx,

(I take pains to spell your name with two ‘x’s, so please try and spell my name correctly too. It’s Ganesh, and if you really must address me by surname, it’s Prasad, not Parasad.)

I don’t think you’ve understood *anything* of what I’ve been trying to say. You only see hostility when someone says something you don’t like. It’s pointless discussing further, so let’s just drop it. (Another example to you, no doubt, of an Indian dodging hard questions.)

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Finally Pakistan has taken come courage in standing up to the US. I do not know if it is a good sign of things to come or not. But this was the question I asked earlier:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42715278/ns/ world_news-south_and_central_asia/

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

Prasad
I ‘m sorry about not spelling your name right. I forgot that Indian ruling class sentiments are are sacred never to be violated.
But I do enjoy reading your prognostication about Pakistan.

KPSingh
Your reference is a small indication of shift which the international alignments are going thru. I see Pakistan taking neutral position till changes stablize.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

I have always believed Pakistani State always had a Plan B in case of their state failure. The plan was to declare that India was the reason for its gross failure to become a normal state and kashmir was the casus belli to which India conspired against to keep pakistan bogged down for eventual failure!
It is these experts who always claimed India was never comfortable with the idea of pakistan and that Pakistan today has a glorious existence inspte of christian-zionist-hindu conspiracies against their Islamic citadel of South Asia and Indeed for the world.
Just as the world has suspected and now coming to terms with the truth that every excuse for the pakistani state in not taking on the extrements was being pointed at the Indian bogeyman, strangely the propoganda seeped so deep down into pakistani state’s psyche that people who started this propoganda have started to believe in this disinformation themselves!
Gobbels once said that “we should be careful that we would not fall for the same propoganda that we are doing, as we might start believing the the same lies ourselves!” they did.. and we know what happened then with Germany.

I have always believed its the economic strength which will always be the most powerful geopolitical event that shapes our geopolitics and the future in general. It is this economic force that has subdued USSR in relation to US. It is this economic force that keeps Indians muted when comparisions with china starts flowing, the fact that we are atleast 12 years behind in economic parity with China is keeping us from undertaking crass adventurism towards the Chinese. Just like the world never allowed the US to fail economically as it was too big to fail and in the event of its failure, would have taken the larger world with it.
Future geopolitics too would revolve around it and certain states which cross certain threshold value of economic significance will be guarded by all countries of the world since they do not want to see these countries fail lest their own economies tumble under this scenario.
These significantly large economies will become even more powerful to the other signification powers if they are complemented by the hard power. (Strategic Nuclear Weapons). But Counties which have very little economic significance in the world would turn out be nuisance makers and it is the nuisance value that they bring to the table will allow them to survice but adrift directionless into the oblivion.
Their only nuisance value can be put as “Humto doobenge sanam, par tumko bhi lejayege”.

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx: “I see Pakistan taking neutral position till changes stablize.”

The question is whether things will stabilize. American war on terror in Afghanistan has made things unstable in Pakistan. Things have gone from bad to worse. Is there a guarantee that the US will not mess up things for Pakistan more? It has already messed things up. How will stability arise out of all this? The only hope is the continuation of a democratic government till the completion of its term. The US can turn the heat on if it wants. It did in the case of Iran. The only positive side that Iran had was its oil.

What we are concerned about as your neighboring country is the instability that seems to be lurking due to the fall out between the US and Pakistan. This instability is not good for Pakistan as well as all the neighboring countries. Both Pakistan and US are walking into the trap of the fundamentalist groups that have been waiting for an occasion of this kind.

As your neighbor, I wish stability for you guys. It is very important for all of us. (Though I talk tough sometimes, in reality, we all want a Pakistan that is a normal nation, stable and progressive). Hope everything will work out fine. It is not easy to turn against the US and survive, especially when a country is weak in all aspects, other than its military.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

@”Finally Pakistan has taken come courage in standing up to the US. I do not know if it is a good sign of things to come or not. But this was the question I asked earlier:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42715278/ns/ world_news-south_and_central_asia/” Posted by KPSingh01

I have not seen this news confirmed by any major US, international or Pakistani newspapers. We’ll find soon, if it has any merit.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx said:

> I ‘m sorry about not spelling your name right. I forgot that Indian ruling class sentiments are are sacred never to be violated.

Of course, this has nothing to do with common courtesy.

The fine balance of prejudice is to hold ridiculous opinions about other people without becoming a laughing stock. Oops.

You’re now in the Rex Minor bin. Adios.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

I ‘m sorry about not spelling your name right. I forgot that Indian ruling class sentiments are are sacred never to be violated.

There is an Ajmal Kasab quality to the postings of Matrixx. “Are you a brahman”, “sikh brhaman”, “catholic goddess”. Rotten product of pakistani education system.

Casteism is rampant in Pakistan as I had posted a few weeks ago. Practice of untouchability, brutality shown by upper caste Pakistanis towards lowaer castes has been well documented by UN bodies.

Yet Ajmal Kasab and his fellow Pakistanis had to catch a boat and come to Taj hotel in Mumbai, they had to place the guns on the foreheads of the people and asked them if they were “upper caste” or “lower caste” before shooting them. This after asking muslims to step aside of course.

Matrixx must have won gold medal or something in Pakistan studies.

Posted by netizen | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx is regurgitating pak hateful lie that Nehru, Patel Co are responsible for partition of Punjab. It is funny they even like Hindutvadis if they support this nonsense more out of hatred for Gandhi, Nehru than for the love of truth.

Here is a (surprisingl) fair minded Pakistani rejecting this posionous nonsense taught in Pakistani schools and which Matrixx has imbibed well.

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp  ?page=2010%5C12%5C07%5Cstory_7-12-2010_ pg3_2

ANALYSIS: Pakistan and the dehumanisation of minorities -Ishtiaq Ahmed

Ridiculing Sikhs as simpletons is a prejudice that still survives in Pakistani Punjab, but their leaders proved to be the most farsighted in anticipating the type of Pakistan that would emerge. In the second half of May 1947, the Sikh leaders met Jinnah in Delhi. Jinnah and Liaquat had come fully prepared to convince them to support the Pakistan demand. They told the Sikhs to write down whatever they wanted and it would be granted. The charm offensive, however, was too late in the day.

Earlier, in March 1947, Sikh villages in the Rawalpindi, Attock and Jhelum districts had borne the brunt of mob attacks at the hands of Muslims. At least 2,000 Sikhs lost their lives.

>>>>> No Muslim League leader, including Jinnah, issued a public statement condemning those attacks. I have looked in vain in the two main English-language newspapers of pre-partition Punjab, the Tribune and The Pakistan Times as well as in the Jinnah Papers for any evidence of the condemnation of that outrage.

Posted by netizen | Report as abusive
 

@Netizen: Stop all this neocon-zionist propaganda. Pakistan is doing just fine. It’s economy, education, internal security, democracy, law & oder, foreign policy etc. are all in good shape & way better than bharat. So just cut it, you brahman, baniya, upper class hindu, you!

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Mortal: “I have not seen this news confirmed by any major US, international or Pakistani newspapers. We’ll find soon, if it has any merit.”

Looks like it is for real. I saw another item in CNN today.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/04  /22/pakistan.drone.strike/index.html?hp t=T2

However, the CNN source is a Pakistani official. The US has not publicly acknowledged the presence of the secret launching base from Pakistan. However, it is an open secret. May be there are more than one location from which drones are being launched.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

The United States should simply divorce itself from the region and depart… they have no business in “Muslim” lands… and let the chips fall where they may.. undoubtedly Pakistan will default since The Saudi King despises President Zardari and Ghadafi is in no position to assist with money, his oil fields shut and funds frozen.. but then again, reading the above, maybe “dove” MM Singh will come to the rescue with Funds..

Posted by Bludde | Report as abusive
 

The United States should simply divorce itself from the region and depart… they have no business in “Muslim” lands… and let the chips fall where they may.. undoubtedly Pakistan will default since The Saudi King despises President Zardari and Ghadafi is in no position to assist with money, his oil fields shut and funds frozen.. but then again, reading the above, maybe “dove” MM Singh will come to the rescue with Funds..

Posted by Bludde | Report as abusive
 

Bludde: “The United States should simply divorce itself from the region and depart… they have no business in “Muslim” lands…”

The US is in some Muslim lands due to oil. It is in some Muslim lands to save its allies like Israel. It is in some Muslim lands like Af-Pak because of being hurt by Islamic terrorists. They abandoned Af-Pak after defeating the USSR. This was one of the major complaints by many Pakistanis. They wouldn’t have come back here if not for the terrorists who hit them hard. They could care less if anyone else existed.

“and let the chips fall where they may.. undoubtedly Pakistan will default since The Saudi King despises President Zardari and Ghadafi is in no position to assist with money, his oil fields shut and funds frozen.. but then again, reading the above, maybe “dove” MM Singh will come to the rescue with Funds..”

Pakistan is different from its military. Its military is the real nation. The rest is just a skin being used to appear valid. Saudi Arabia deals only with Pak military. They are like their security guards. They’d love to control the Saudis as well. That is why they are protecting Bin Laden. It can come in handy in the future if the odds turn against them. Pakistan always has some chips up its sleeve to counter moves by others, including the US.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

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