Pakistan Papers: US Drones Violate Sovereignty, Fuel Anti-American Sentiment
A new batch of US State Embassy cables released specifically dealing with the US relationship with Pakistan draw attention to a number of Pakistani political issues, the military aid the US has been giving Pakistan, the deployment of US troops in Pakistan and the growing conflict between India and Pakistan, which the US appears to be gaming to advance its own foreign policy.
The release is the product of a partnership between the Dawn Media Group and WikiLeaks that began in the last week of April of this year. Around 4,000 cables are to be released over the next few weeks.
There are numerous ways to begin to examine the cables. This post covers the use of drone technology in Pakistan.
Kayani Asks US to Loan Pakistan Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs)
The cable getting attention is 08ISLAMABAD609 sent out by Anne W. Patterson on February 11, 2008. It details a meeting between Pakistan General Ashfaq Kayani, Chief of Army Staff, and US CENTCOM Commander and Admiral William J. Fallon on January 22. During the meeting, the two discuss expanding military assistance and training along with improving cooperation in Afghanistan.
Kayani asks Fallon to assist in providing “continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area.” Fallon is unable to offer the “assets to support his request” but offers Joint Tactical Aircraft Controller (JTAC) support for Pakistani aircraft. Kayani does not find this offer politically acceptable.
Fallon offers JTAC training for Pakistani troops. A brief discussion on the complexities of “building a night-capable, air-to-ground capability in the Pakistan army” ends with Kayani conceding such a “big project” could not be undertaken. But, during the meeting, Kayani does emphasize the need for tactical SIGINT capability for Pakistan’s military aircraft. Though not interested in Predator drones, he would like to procure Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) and asks if the US could “grant or loan them to Pakistan.”
In December 2009, just as US President Barack Obama delivered a speech on sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, US officials also began to commit to more use of drones in Pakistan. The New York Times’s Scott Shane covered this development reporting officials were “talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time—a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas.”
(Note, the controversy was not that covert military operations were being considered in a country where war powers had not been authorized with congressional approval. The issue was that an area outside of areas where strikes had been much more acceptable was being considered. The Timesalso uses the CIA as a cover for military actions like drone strikes. See the headline for this quote, “CIA to Expand Use of Drones in Pakistan.” But this isn’t covert. The US is committing military personnel to the country. This is obvious in the cables.)
Zardari Welcomes “Acquisition of Modern Technology”
A cable on a congressional delegation led by US Senator Patrick Leahy (09ISLAMABAD1123) reveals President Asif Ali Zardari in May of 2009 requested the US use drone technology so his forces could take out the militants. He “welcome the acquisition of modern technology” believing having drones would make it more difficult for media or anyone else to criticize the actions the Army might take to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Another cable (08ISLAMABAD3677) focuses on the reaction in Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of what was believed to be the first such attack in the settled areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, outside of the tribal areas. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani sharply condemned the strike within “Pakistan proper,” which US diplomat Anne Patterson describes as a “watershed event.”
The strikes were “intolerable” to Gilani. In Pakistani Parliament. Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan criticized the Pakistan government’s “inability to stop alleged U.S. incursion and asked that the matter be taken to the United Nations.”
PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal cited the Bannu attack as evidence that the GOP must have a secret agreement with the US. Other parliamentarians claimed that they have seen drones hovering over Swat, and warned that future attacks could spread to Peshawar and Islamabad.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman also made an impassioned speech during the Assembly session against alleged U.S. action in Bannu calling it “U.S. aggression and violation of Pakistan’s territorial integrity.” Rehman’s party will hold a secret meeting to discuss their future actions in response to the continued drone strikes, according to contacts within the party. The Bannu attack is particularly significant for Fazlur because he represents the Bannu district.
Interestingly, “vehemently secular” Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) Deputy Parliamentary Leader Haider Rizvi claimed he would not be able to handle the growing popular and political pressure from these attacks and declared the Pakistan people “had not made their peace with drone attacks in the tribal areas and a shift into mainland Pakistan was even more inflammatory.”
“Friendly countries are being asked to help Pakistan in convincing the US to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty,” said Chairman of the Joint Committee Raza Rabbani. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was “concerned” about the US attacks but didn’t intervene because he found it to be a “bilateral issue.”
Pakistani Prime Minister: “We Will Hit Targets Ourselves”
Gilani denies there is a secret government agreement between the US and Pakistan, which may be mostly true. Right after the election of Obama, one of the released cables (08ISLAMABAD3586) shows Gilani pressed the US government to “share all credible, actionable threat information.” He declared, “We will hit the targets ourselves,”
…Gilani added that drone strikes not only violated Pakistani sovereignty, but also fed anti-U.S. sentiment, making harder his own public case that the struggle against extremists was “Pakistan’s war.” Instead, there was popular pressure on elected officials like himself to forcefully respond to alleged U.S. border incursions, which were “an embarrassment” for the GOP. The “trust gap” should be filled with joint actions, he argued, and, while he might be criticized for such bilateral cooperation, he believed he could effectively convince the public that those targeted were responsible for Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the killing of innocents at schools.
Months later, in June 2009 cable09ISLAMABAD1438, Gilani again expressed his frustration while meeting with National Security Advisor James Jones:
[Gilani] thanked the U.S. for its assistance while stating he needed “a battalion of helicopters” to fight the extremists now, and in the future. He also made repeated pleas for drones to be “put in Pakistan’s hands” so that Pakistan would own the issue and drone attacks (including collateral damage) would not provoke anti-americanism. Zardari said the technology behind them was not cutting-edge and said he has raised the issue with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Inter Services Public Relations spokesman in Pakistan said right in the immediate aftermath of the cable release, “There has only been sharing of technical intelligence in some areas” and “no armed drone attack support has ever been asked for operations which have been conducted using own resources.”
“American Image” Reaching a New Low
Consistent with current US operations in Pakistan, a US drone strike destroyed a vehicle in Pakistan in the North Waziristan district on the Afghan border, an area believed to be occupied by Taliban. Local officials said “six suspected militants” were killed.
A Washington Pew Research Center survey conducted recently shows that 11 percent of Pakistanis view the US and President Obama favorably. The survey, taken a week prior to the killing of Osama bin Laden, is likely a bit higher than the country’s current approval rating especially since that and multiple drone strikes have taken place in Pakistan since the assassination.
Dawn Media Group concludes the “American image” is reaching new lows but that has never bothered Washington. The media organization notes US congressman would like a review of the US commitment to providing aid in the “war on terror” before more aid is given to the country, which has received at least $20 billion so far.
Shyema Sajjad for Dawn writes, “What’s the most stirring thing about the revelations WikiLeaks has brought to us today? Nothing? Or everything? For starters, quite a few people reading the cables right now must be gloating and inwardly thinking or outwardly bragging. ‘Hah! I knew it all along!’ Of course you did. Didn’t we all?”
Sajjad finds the key travesty revealed in the cables to be the fact that Pakistani leaders and the military have “more faith in the American government than they do in themselves.” He adds, “Talk of sovereignty today is a farce. Sovereignty is not sacred and whether it’s Kayani who pretends to uphold it or whether it is Gilani, fact remains that we are secretly (well, not so much anymore) selling it every single day.”
A United Nations report in June 2010 on “Extrajudicial Executions” suggested the drones targeting militants “violate straightforward legal rules.”
The refusal by States who conduct targeted killings to provide transparency about their policy violates the international framework that limits the unlawful use of legal force against individuals. A lack of disclosure gives States a virtual and impermissible licence to kill.
At the time of the release, 134 drone attacks had been conducted.
A study published in February 2010 by Peter Bergen and Katherin Tiedemann on behalf of the New America Foundation detailed US drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004-2010. The study found “114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the present have killed between 830 and 1,210 individuals, of whom around 550 to 850 were described as militants in reliable press accounts.” This means the “true civilian fatality rate since 2004” was 32 percent.
The study concluded “US drone strikes don’t seem to have had any great effect on the Taliban’s ability to mount operations in Pakistan or Afghanistan or to deter potential Western recruits, and they no longer have the element of surprise.” And, “their unpopularity with the Pakistani public and their value as a recruiting tool for extremist groups may have ultimately increased the appeal of the Taliban and al Qaeda, undermining the Pakistani state. This is more disturbing than almost anything that could happen in Afghanistan, given that Pakistan has dozens of nuclear weapons and about six times the population.