On Tuesday, Marcy Wheeler pointed out that the meeting in Washington between Leon Panetta and his Pakistani counterpart, ISI head Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha was cut short. A key topic in the meeting was the ongoing tension over US drone strikes in Pakistan. On cue, and apparently while Pasha was still in transit back from Washington, four drone-fired missiles struck in South Waziristan on Wednesday, killing four and prompting more protests from Pakistan. This strike was the first since a strike on March 17, the day after Raymond Davis was released, killed a large number of civilians, provoking widespread outrage in Pakistan and leading to a halt in US strikes.
The headline announcing the drone strikes in Pakistan’s Express Tribune captured what is likely a response that spread through Pakistan as news of the new drone strike spread: “US mocks Pak demand with fresh drone strike“. After describing the attack, which in this article was said to kill six rather than four, the article went on to provide details:
“Four missiles were fired. The target was a vehicle. Six militants were killed,” a military official told AFP requesting anonymity.
Intelligence officials said the dead belonged to the Haqqani Network, an al Qaeda-allied group run by veteran Afghan warlord Sirajuddin Haqqani and based in North Waziristan.
An administration official in South Waziristan said those who died were “all Afghans.”
Dawn noted that the nature of Pakistan’s protest over this strike is different from past complaints:
An unusual aspect of the remonstration was that it was the first time in a couple of years that a démarche was made on a missile strike targeting militants — an indication that Islamabad may be revisiting its tacit tolerance of hits by pilotless predators on militant sites.
Military sources confirmed to Dawn that those killed and injured in the drone attack on Wednesday were Afghans.
“Pakistan strongly condemns the drone attack at Angoor Adda today. We have repeatedly said that such attacks are counter-productive and only contribute to strengthening the hands of terrorists,” Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told US Ambassador Cameron Munter while lodging the protest with him.
Noting how the attacks “strengthen the hands of terrorists” is a very interesting tactic and seems to be new.
At the same time as this attack, Dawn also was providing information from the annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan:
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has issued its annual report which states that over 900 people were killed due to American Drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan, DawnNews reports.
The reports which focuses on human rights violations in the country also lays an emphasis on terror attacks in 2010 as a result of which 1100 people were killed.
In other words, the number killed by US drones is within 20 percent of those killed in terrorist attacks within Pakistan.
In a blog post at Dawn, Nadir Hassan provides a very interesting analysis of the ongoing struggles between Pakistan and the US. Hassan notes that Pakistan has no leverage in its quest to end the drone strikes:
Let’s get real though. Making demands is one thing. Expecting those demands to be fulfilled is quite another. The alliance between the US and Pakistan is often called a “transactional relationship.” The US pays for what it wants and we give it to them, holding our nose and counting the cash. In such a relationship you don’t get to have your complaints heard.
Before making demands, we need leverage. Cash-strapped as we are, we cannot tell the US to keep its foreign aid and we’ll keep our sovereignty, thank you very much. The problem is we do not have any other kind of leverage either. The US has two fears about Pakistan: that the country will be taken over by terrorists or that they will get their hands on our nuclear arsenal. As much as we use the Taliban threat – and it is a very real threat, although not one that will take over the government, as panicked Westerners fear – to wring more strings-attached aid out of the US, ultimately everyone knows that it is equally in Pakistan’s interest to keep the Taliban at bay. Sure, we may use them and keep them alive to bolster our misguided policy, but the Taliban is as much a threat to the military and civilian leadership here as it is to the US. Similarly, we cannot bluff the Americans into agreeing to our demands by implying that we will hand over a nuke or two to the militants. Basically, it all boils down to having no leverage.
There is one negotiating tactic the military could use, although its chances for success are slim. Pakistan is a vital supply route for Nato forces in Afghanistan, one that the army could threaten to shut down if some of their concerns aren’t addressed. It would be inconvenient for the US to rely solely on Central Asian routes to supply the coalition forces so perhaps this threat could get us a minor concession or two. For that, too, the window of opportunity is narrow. If President Barack Obama follows through on his promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next years, Pakistan’s role as a hub will diminish.
It is interesting that Hassan would mention attacks on supply convoys, since that tactic already has been used, as many fuel tankers were burned while Pakistan had closed a border crossing in the dispute over the US killing three Pakistani soldiers at a border station. Since Dawn is viewed by some to be a mouthpiece of the Pakistani military, it will be interesting to see if the next step in escalation of tensions will be a return to more attacks on supply convoys.
In contrast with the “mocking” nature of the US drone attack while Pasha was still in transit back from Washington, there is word today the Pakistan also appears to be going along with US demands to control Taliban forces within its borders:
Pakistani troops and paramilitary forces, backed by helicopter gunships and warplanes, targeted Taliban positions in the tribal region of Mohmand near the Afghan border on Thursday, killing at least 18 militants, a regional government official said.
Pakistan’s military has recently mounted an offensive in villages bordering Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar in pursuit of militants linked to al Qaeda and Taliban who want to destabilize the U.S. ally and impose Taliban-style rule.
“We are going after them with full force, using every kind of force. They carry out attacks and other activities from there,” Masood Khan, the government official, said.
Stay tuned for further developments.