Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Ground the Drones in 2013

LAHORE – Although 2012 saw an accelerating drawdown of United States and NATO forces’ in Afghanistan, a grim aspect of that decade-long war – reliance on air strikes by unmanned drones – continued unabated. Indeed, those attacks were stepped up, with America’s use of drone warfare in Pakistan reaching an unprecedented height over the past year. With President Barack Obama re-elected and no longer facing the pressure of a campaign, it would be in America’s interest – and certainly in the interests of my country, Pakistan – to use the first year of his new term to de-escalate the violence.

America’s drone strikes in Pakistan reflect an arrogant frame of mind that fails to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent, between the perpetrator and the afflicted, and between the criminal and the aggrieved. By banishing all trappings of justice, this mindset is oblivious to the suffering of the peace-loving civilians who comprise the vast majority of those living in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The US drone strikes have left behind a long trail of death of innocent civilians, with no one being held accountable. These remote-controlled flying machines are programmed to decimate, brutally and indiscriminately. It is shameful that a country known for its democratic values and its unparalleled commitment to human freedom should stoop so low as to kill innocent men, women, and children.

As a result, instead of winning hearts and minds, the US, with the constant humming of killer drones in the air, is driving fear into every living soul in the tribal areas. Indeed, the bloody irony is that the strategy is utterly counter-productive; the people of the tribal areas, with their warrior past, end up joining the militants, justifying their actions as jihad against the forces occupying Afghanistan and their helpers in Pakistan.

Indeed, according to a recent report by researchers at New York University School of Law and Stanford Law School, the people in the areas targeted by the drone campaign are being systematically terrorized. The drone strategy constitutes a campaign of terror – highly effective terror in which even funerals of drone victims have been targeted. In one particularly notorious case, 40 maliks (tribal leaders) holding a jirga (tribal assembly) were burned in an indiscriminate attack.

Alongside many luminaries around the world, former US President Jimmy Carter has condemned Obama’s barbaric drone policy. But the complicity of Pakistan’s government is equally reprehensible. According to WikiLeaks, former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani approved the US drone strikes, saying: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” President Asif Ali Zardari went even further, saying that he did not care about the “collateral damage.”

So Pakistan’s government has failed in its principal responsibility, enshrined in its constitution, to safeguard the lives and property of its citizens, as well as the country’s security and sovereignty. More than 40,000 citizens have been killed since the beginning of the US war in Afghanistan, because Pakistan’s government criminally collaborates with forces that facilitated its rise to power. And, in the face of ongoing military operations, most schools in Waziristan have remain closed for the past 7 years, depriving a generation of children of education and opportunity.

The road to peace in South Asia runs through restive Waziristan. Despite countless sacrifices in the face of the drone strikes’ arbitrary cruelty, the resolve of the tribal areas’ people remains undented. While they continue to seek peace, they are not willing to compromise their honor and self-respect, however daunting the challenges they confront.

The true face of their cultural patrimony and proud traditions must be brought to the world’s attention, so that their dream of peace with honor can be realized. But this can happen only when the US and Pakistani governments disengage from their “war on terror.” Indeed, only when Pakistan is no longer perceived as fighting a US war will local militants stop thinking of the conflict as a jihad against foreign intervention. Peace will come when the tribal people, in their hundreds and thousands, no longer see a reason to fight.

In short, the drone strikes constitute a flawed policy that has only strengthened anti-US sentiment and the forces of extremism in Pakistan. America’s killing machines have failed to subjugate the area’s proud people – a failure that underlies the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. I believe that the withdrawal should come even sooner, so that the US can avoid leaving behind a legacy of animosity that may continue to haunt it for generations.

Only a rapid change of course by the Obama administration in 2013 can begin to counteract the enmity toward the US that has been generated by more than a decade of its forces’ lethal presence in the region. America’s drone war, with its wanton destruction of families and communities, is deepening that antipathy. To get peace in Afghanistan, indeed all of South Asia, the US needs to give peace a chance!

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  1. CommentedTony U

    Mr. Khan, either intentionally or unintentionally, ignores that fact that Pakistan has, for years, funded and supported terror elements in Afghanistan -- the very groups killing NATO troops and Afghan civilians. Mr. Kahn also ignores the fact that the Pakistan government is grossly corrupt and wholly incapable of defeating its own domestic insurgency, which thrives in the region neighboring Pakistan.

    Should Pakistan's military take control of the situation, drones strikes would not be needed. Should Pakistan become an honest participant, and stop playing both sides, the drone strikes would not be needed. Should Pakistan abandon its strategic policy of maintaining a weak Afghanistan neighbor to allow for an exit during another disastrous war with India, drones would not be needed.

    Mr. Kahn is disingenuous to implicitly suggest that Pakistan is an honest, forthright, transparent partner. Rather, the numerous madrasas which breed successive generations of youthful extremists, uncontrolled Waziristan region, ISI's continued campaign of Taliban support, and Pakistan's conniving ulterior motives in dealing with both Afghanistan and the US, sadly ripen the stage for drone strikes -- which Pakistan itself has tacitly supported.

    This article is garbage. An emotional, uninformed, dishonest argument which completely ignores the reality of the situation and the numerous failings of his home country.

  2. CommentedKen Presting

    Mr. Khan makes several important points, but his claim that "the resolve of the tribal areas' people remains undaunted" may require clarification. There is also evidence that the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan are brutally oppressed and exploited by Taliban forces as well as (other) criminal opportunists.

    I for one wish to praise the moral standards of Mr. Khan, Medea Benjamin, and others who are standing up for drone strike victims. Still, I believe there is a more nuanced view.

    I believe the intended targets of US drone strikes are in fact criminals, not enemy combatants. Striking against them would be justifiable as a police tactic, if there were a competent international police authority to oversee those tactics and punish those who abuse deadly force. Hiding among innocent tribal populations is a deliberate tactic, comparable to hostage-taking.

    I agree that drone strikes as conducted now are killing innocent people. I must admit that I cannot see much moral difference between the universally regretted collateral damage of conventional military attacks, and the drone casualties. At least drones kill fewer people than bombs do.

    In sum, it is a disservice to international public safety and to international justice to call for "grounding the drones." Instead, we should build the international institutions which can place this dangerous technology under proper supervision. Until that is accomplished. the US military should enlist the US judiciary for oversight.

  3. CommentedVamsi Dharanikota

    This is pretty classy propaganda. Once the drone strikes stop Pakistani establishment will get back to its ways that led to a lot of terrorists finding safe havens in Pakistan. I know there are innocents dying as in any war but for the bigger picture and lasting peace in this region, USA is doing the right thing.

      CommentedV S

      a) Who gave the US carte blanche? The Pakistan government. If they can take care of the problem, no need for drones. Why not address this to Pak govt?
      b) Drones are an alternative to Pak army action. So, lets not label this as US agenda only, which is a useful argument for political ends that Imran has in Pakistan. For all you know, drones are saving Pak army lives. US doesn't have an agenda anymore after finding Bin Laden. Pak and Afghanistan need to take care of terrorists on their soil. Cessation of drone attacks will cost Pak and Afghanistan more than it will cost the US. That is the only solution here for the benefit of all, Pak, Afghans.
      c) Is there anyone explaining to the Taliban that the ends don't justify the means when they hide behind civilians and use ambulances for attacks? Why is the ethics argument one-sided? Where is the ethics arguments for the lives lost by having Taliban subjugate civilians?

      CommentedV S

      Who gave the US carte blanche? The Pakistan government. If they can take care of the problem, no need for drones. When the Pak govt and army and ISI bring this upon themselves, what is to be done? Is there anyone explaining to the Taliban that the ends don't justify the means when they hide behind civilians and use ambulances for attacks? Why is the ethics argument one-sided and the role of the Pak govt/army/ISI down played or absent?

      CommentedV S

      Who gave the US carte blanche? The Pakistan government. If they can take care of the problem, no need for drones. When the Pak govt and army and ISI bring this upon themselves, what is to be done? Is there anyone explaining to the Taliban that the ends don't justify the means when they hide behind civilians and use ambulances for attacks? Why is the ethics argument one-sided and the role of the Pak govt/army/ISI down played or absent?

      CommentedMoctar Aboubacar

      "The bigger picture" is a scary concept. You are also implying that giving the United States carte blanche to bomb another country is a viable policy to deter Pakistan from going back to it's "old ways".

      For countries that wish to remain civilized, there is no real choice here; the ends simply do not justify the means.

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