With protests about Raymond Davis’ release still raging across Pakistan to the point that extraordinary levels of riot police are required around the US consulate in Lahore and Pakistani lawyers are burning the US flag, the CIA has recklessly escalated anti-US sentiment yet again by targeting a jirga, or meeting of village elders, in a drone strike in North Waziristan.
Despite the fact that the UN has declared that US drone strikes in Pakistan “may well violate international humanitarian law“, the Obama administration still relies on drones as a central feature in its war in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. The latest strike, on Thursday, has sparked a huge outcry from civilians, the Pakistani military and Pakistani government officials.
Here is how the New York Times describes the strike:
Several missiles fired from American drone aircraft on Thursday struck a meeting of local people in northwest Pakistan who had gathered with Taliban mediators to settle a dispute over a chromite mine. The attack, a Pakistani intelligence official said, killed 26 of 32 people present, some of them Taliban fighters, but the majority elders and local people not attached to the militants.
Locals in Pakistan are claiming the death toll was as high as forty. The Times article continues:
The Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued an unusual and unusually strong condemnation of the attack. “It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens, including elders of the area, was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” the statement said.
But American officials on Thursday sharply disputed Pakistan’s account of the strikes and the civilian deaths, contending that all the people killed were insurgents. “These people weren’t gathering for a bake sale,” an American official said. “They were terrorists.”
Just wow. After killing a huge number of people, and with multiple sources pointing out that this was a peaceful meeting to work out a dispute over a mine (and others noting that the Taliban would not gather so openly when they know they are targeted), the US responds with a callous and flippant remark about a “bake sale”.
The Pakistani media has details on official reactions to this incredibly provocative action. Dawn describes Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir’s response:
In a correspondence with US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir protested against Thursday’s drone strike and said the United States must guarantee that similar mistakes would not be repeated, foreign office sources told DawnNews.
The correspondence further stated that Pakistan reserved its right to defend its sovereignty and that such attacks would not be tolerated in the future.
The correspondence also stated that Pakistan would not tolerate similar violations of international law and human rights in the future.
The article goes on to provide a statement from foreign ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua:
“This is not only unacceptable but also a flagrant violation of all humanitarian rules and norms,” Janjua said.
Dawn also reports that US Ambassador Cameron Munter was summoned to a meeting at the foreign office:
The ministry said that Munter was met by foreign secretary Salman Bashir who conveyed “a strong protest” regarding Thursday’s attack by a CIA-operated pilotless drone.
“It was evident that the fundamentals of our relations need to be revisited. Pakistan should not be taken for granted nor treated as a client state,” the statement said.
“It was for the White House and the State Department to hold back those who have been trying to veer Pakistan-US relationship away from the track.” The ministry said Pakistan would not attend a meeting in Brussels with officials from the Washington and Kabul on security in Afghanistan, scheduled for March 26.
Canceling Pakistan’s cooperation in the trilateral meeting is a huge move. The US uses these meetings as cover for its actions in the area. By not participating in the meeting, Pakistan is essentially withdrawing some of its support for US actions in the region.
The article goes on to state that Munter intends to “rush to Washington” to deliver the message from the foreign ministry. In the meantime, I can find no official press releases from State Department personnel in Pakistan on the drone attack. Hmmm, I wonder if this incredibly provocative attack and the hopelessly insensitive “bake sale” statement played a role in Hillary Clinton’s decision on Thursday to announce that she would not serve as Secretary of State during a second Obama term.
The Pakistani military is just as upset by this attack as the foreign office. The Express Tribune quotes Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani:
“Such acts of violence take us away from our objective of elimination of terrorism. It is imperative to understand that this critical objective can not be sacrificed for temporary tactical gains. Security of people of Pakistan, in any case, stands above all,” an ISPR statement quoted the army chief as saying. In his strongly-worded statement, the army chief said it is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard for human life.
He said that the Pakistan Army condoles with the families whose dear and near ones have been martyred in the attack. Troops on the ground have been ordered to render all possible assistance to the bereaved families, he added.
“The Pakistan Army has already launched a protest in the strongest possible terms.” he added.
It will be very interesting to see how long it is until the next drone strike and at what level the US responds to the charges that the meeting was peaceful rather than a gathering of terrorists. Not much time remains until the trilateral meeting, so the US will need to respond quickly to get Pakistan back into the fold in order to provide cover for US actions.