The United States carried out more drone strikes in Afghanistan this year than it has done in all the years put together in Pakistan since it launched the covert air war there eight years ago. With all the attention and hand wringing focused on the operations in Pakistan, it’s remarkable that such a ramp-up just over the border has gone virtually unnoticed.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
If 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.
I have (somewhat belatedly) got around to reading the full text of the statement made by Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani condemning last week’s drone strike in North Waziristan which killed more than 40 people. The strike has reignited tensions with Washington, and came only a day after Pakistan released Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis, after a bruising row with the United States.
Last week’s suicide bomb attack on a base in Afghanistan which killed seven CIA officers and a Jordanian spy is raising fears in Pakistan that it could encourage an intensified drone bombing campaign to target those who planned the assault.
Pakistan’s military campaign against Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan has been seen very much as a punitive mission - and that has just been forcefully highlighted by reports that the Pakistani Taliban leader’s wife was killed in a missile strike. A relative said that Mehsud’s second wife had been killed when a U.S. drone fired missiles into her father’s house in the village of Makeen. He said four children were among the wounded.
In a world used to watching war played out on television, and more recently to following protests in Iran via Twitter and YouTube, the Pakistan Army’s impending military offensive in South Waziristan on the Afghan border is probably not getting the attention it deserves — not least but because the operation is shrouded in secrecy.
With Pakistan launching what the country’s Daily Times calls an “all-out war” against the Taliban, more than 500,000 people have fled the fighting in the northwest, bringing to more than a million those displaced since August, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.After apparently giving the Taliban enough rope to hang themselves, by offering a peace deal in the Swat valley which the government said they then reneged upon, the government for now seems to have won enough popular backing to launch its offensive.But to succeed in defeating the Taliban, the government must also be ready with a strategy to rebuild shattered lives if the mood in the northwest is not to turn sour, Dawn newspaper says. It quotes defence analyst Ikram Sehgal as estimating the military could take up to two months to conclude its campaign, and that dealing with the impact on civilians will require more than 10 times the one billion rupees (12 million dollars) the government has so far announced.In a separate article, it says that refugees are already upset about the behaviour of both the Taliban and the military. ’We are frightened of the Taliban and the army. If they want to fight, they should kill each other, they should not take refuge in our homes,” it quotes an 18-year-old girl as saying.Both Pakistan’s The News International newspaper and the blog Changing up Pakistan warn against the onset of compassion fatigue, both for the sake of the people affected and to make sure refugee camps do not turn into recruiting grounds for the Taliban.”If the militants can provide services and offer more viable options for IDPs than the state, that is a dangerous phenomenon. The government and international agencies must therefore do more to relieve the plight of the ever-increasing number of displaced persons in Pakistan, not just for humanitarian purposes, but because we cannot afford to let the Taliban win any more,” Changing up Pakistan says.In the meantime, more questions are being raised about the U.S. administration’s policy of using unmanned drone aircraft to fire missiles on Pakistan’s tribal areas. The missile attacks, meant to target militant leaders and disrupt al Qaeda’s capabilities, cause civilian casualties, alienate Pakistanis who see them as an invasion of sovereignty and add to a perception that Pakistan is fighting “America’s war” in one place, while being bombed by American planes in another.Foreign Policy Journal quotes U.S. Congressman Ron Paul as criticising the Obama administration for continuing the drone missile attacks first started under President George W. Bush. “We are bombing a sovereign country,” it quotes him as saying. “Where do we get the authority to do that? Did the Pakistani government give us written permission? Did the Congress give us written permission to expand the war and start bombing in Pakistan?” he asked.
It adds that he said there are “many, many thousands of Pashtuns that are right smack in the middle, getting killed by our bombs, and then we wonder why they object to our policies over there. How do you win the hearts and minds of these people if we’re seen as invaders and occupies?”
Read President Barack Obama’s speech on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he said a year ago and it’s hard to see how much further forward we are in understanding exactly how he intends to uproot Islamist militants inside Pakistan.