Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
One of the things U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ran into last week during her trip to Pakistan was anger over attacks by unmanned “drone” aircraft inside Pakistan and along the border with Afghanistan.
One questioner during an interaction with members of the public said the missile strikes by Predator aircraft amounted to “executions without trial” for those killed. Another asked Clinton to define terrorism and whether she considered the drone attacks to be an act of terrorim like the car bomb that ripped through Peshawar that same week killing more than 100 people.
The people of Pakistan aren’t the only ones asking that question. A top UN rights expert has swung the attention back on the drone programme, saying that the United States may be violating international law with the missile strikes.
Philip Aston, the Special Rapporteur on extradjudicial, summary or arbitary executions, said there could be circumstances under which the use of such techniques could be justified in international law, but Washington would have to show it followed appropriate precautions and accountability mechanisms.
For some weeks now there have been persistent reports about Taliban leader Mullah Omar, asking fighters in the Pakistani Taliban to stop carrying out attacks there and instead focus on Afghanistan where Western forces are being bolstered.
The reclusive one-eyed leader had in December sent emissaries to ask leaders of the Pakistani Taliban to settle their differences, scale down activities in Pakistan and help mount a spring offensive against the build-up of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a report in the New York Times said as recently as last week.
U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan have killed more than 50 people in the past three days in what appears to be an escalation of the military campaign in the troubled region along the Afghan border, conducted largely by unmanned drone aircraft.
On Saturday, a remote-controlled US drone bombed compounds in South Waziristan, killing at least 25 people. And on Monday, another US drone struck the Kurram tribal region, killing 26. Kurram had not been targeted earlier, so in that sense it represented a broadening of the campaign, while the high death toll speaks for the intensity of the strikes.
So which troops is Afghan President Hamid Karzai going to send to Pakistan to make good his threat to hunt Baitullah Mehsud and his men, and stop cross-border attacks? The Afghan National Army, the Afghan national police ? Aren’t they already too stretched trying to cope with the Taliban inside Afghanistan to worry about them across the border ?
Indeed Karzai spoke barely a couple of days after 1,150 prisoners, an estimated 400 of them militants, escaped Kandahar jail after it was stormed by the Taliban in what must be one of biggest jailbreaks, even by Afghan standards
It’s coming up to three months since Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, disappeared from the border region of Khyber along with his driver and guard.
After weeks of silence, the ambassador appeared on a video aired over Al Arabiya satellite channel last month saying he had been kidnapped by Taliban militants. Surrounded by masked men with automatic weapons, he said he was suffering from health problems and appealed to the Pakistani government to comply with his captors’ demands which Pakistani media have reported relate to the release of several jailed militants.
And that is the last that has been heard so far. Indeed, only slightly less intriguing than the envoy’s disappearance has been the lack of any public attention to his plight right from the beginning. So much so that Azizuddin’s family last weekend issued a public appeal to the government to expedite efforts for his release. The family said they were greatly concerned there were no signs of an early and safe release of the envoy and his companions.
An ambassador, as the Pakistan Spectator said, symbolises the government and officials cannot afford to ignore the issue even if the media is focused elsewhere, all the more so after the emergence of a civilian government after nine years of military rule. How would another nation, for example the United States, act if its top diplomat was taken away and not heard from, for months ?