Obama Administration’s Unremitting Indifference to Pakistan’s Drone Opposition
The government of Pakistan has presented the United States government with a list of demands that includes ending CIA drone strikes in the country immediately. The New York Times reports the government has also called on the Obama administration to apologize for “air strikes in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.” But, based on the track record of indifference the Obama administration has shown toward a country that has been destabilized by the continued use of drones to attack “militants” or alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda targets, it is unlikely the people of Pakistan get any reprieve at all.
The Associated Press spoke to “US officials,” who shared their reaction anonymously because the government remains committed to operating the program in “secret,” even though the world knows so much about it. These “officials” said “the White House has no intentions to end CIA drone strikes against militant targets on Pakistani soil.” Even better, the officials added, “They will work to find common ground with Pakistan over the coming weeks, but if a suspected terrorist target comes into the laser sights of a CIA drone’s hellfire missiles, they will take the shot.” They might as well have just said, “Don’t hold your breath.”
A clearer indication of how disingenuous the Obama administration will be as they pretend to take this concern seriously in the following days came from State Department spokesperson Mark Toner, who was asked about the demand to end drone strikes.
QUESTION: Mark, there are four major demands. One, are you ready to apologize? They’re asking for the 24 Pakistani soldiers who were killed. Two, stop all the drone and other attacks. And three, that Pakistani should be treated just like you treat India. And fourth, finally, that Pakistan should be a given a nuclear – civil nuclear just like to India.
MR. TONER: Goyal, those are a nice try to get me to negotiate and talk about that ongoing relationship from the podium, but let’s let us sit down with our senior officials, sit down with Pakistan’s senior officials, and discuss it.
QUESTION: No, this is what —
MR. TONER: Sure, Goyal.
QUESTION: Sorry. This is what I am saying that this is what has been going on in the media in Pakistan every day and in discussions among those politicians and all that. That’s —
MR. TONER: No, I think we’re aware of some of the concerns that the parliamentary review raised. And they’re – frankly, some of them are not new to us, so we’re going to engage.
Just how much the Obama administration is willing to engage is questionable. The administration continues to refuse to take questions about outrage in the country seriously. They continue to dismiss the concerns of people who find the continued attacks to be reprehensible. And, as Toner showed in the press briefing, the administration clings to a level of secrecy that is nothing but utterly absurd:
QUESTION: You said that you’d talk about the breadth of the whole thing, correct? That would be every subject that you’re willing to talk about with them?
MR. TONER: I don’t know if we would talk about every subject under the sun. We’d talk about —
QUESTION: No, no. Every subject that they raised, you’re willing to talk about, including —
MR. TONER: Well, we’re going to talk to them about our civilian cooperation as well as our counterterrorism cooperation, security cooperation —
QUESTION: So you’re willing to talk with them about the drone strikes?
MR. TONER: You know I can’t talk about any intelligence matters.
QUESTION: You can’t talk about it with us. Can you talk about it with them?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we have very robust counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, is this something – they put this on the table. Are you – is this something that’s on the table for the U.S.?
MR. TONER: I’ll just say that we’re going to talk about aspects – all aspects of our relationship moving forward.
QUESTION: You’re going to talk about all aspects of what they raised?
MR. TONER: Including counterterrorism cooperation, but you know —
QUESTION: Does that include – is that your understanding? Does that include drone strikes?
MR. TONER: I cannot address that point.
QUESTION: But wait – forget about the word – the two words “drone” and “strike.” You are willing – the U.S. is going to talk to them about everything that’s in this review?
MR. TONER: I think we’re willing to address their concerns moving forward and find a middle ground.
QUESTION: Well, without naming them, are there some issues that you’re not willing to talk about?
MR. TONER: Again, let’s let these conversations move forward until – and I’m not going to – we’re not going to take anything off the table or put anything on the table. [emphasis added]
Hopefully, the “US officials” that spoke to AP are not from the State Department because they took an option off the table already.
Pakistan has complicated operations by closing off North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply routes to Afghanistan. But, it is known that the route is necessary to Pakistan’s economic survival as it relies on US and other NATO countries to survive economically. Nonetheless, this has swelled into a public relations problem and this is how it is being spun now to calm the Pakistanis:
“What’s important is not the number or pace of strikes, but their effectiveness,” a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
“This year already an (al Qaeda) external-ops planner and another key Pakistani military ally have been taken off the battlefield,” the official said.
“Another way to look at the number of strikes is to see this as the result of sustained and effective run of aggressive counter terrorism operations that have steadily degraded al Qaeda and its allies over the past several years.”
In other words, the US government will not stop drone strikes, but bad guys are being eliminated so, with any luck, strikes may not occur as frequently as they have been occurring.
This outrage at US drone attacks in Pakistan has been present for over two years. Here’s a recap —
Pakistan: US must halt drone attacks (CNN)
[January 2009] Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has called on the United States to halt its drone attacks against al Qaeda and Taliban fighters on Pakistani soil and warned that the missile strikes were fueling militarism in the country’s troubled tribal border region.
US considers halting drone attacks on Pakistan (The Telegraph)
[May 5] The Obama administration is considering suspending drone attacks against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants inside Pakistan because it fears they are undermining the critically weak government.
CIA to Expand Use of Drones in Pakistan (New York Times)
[December 4] Two weeks ago in Pakistan, Central Intelligence Agency sharpshooters killed eight people suspected of being militants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and wounded two others in a compound that was said to be used for terrorist training.
UN official to ask US to end CIA drone strikes (New York Times)
[May 27] A senior United Nations official is expected to call on the United States next week to stop Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes against people suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda, complicating the Obama administration’s growing reliance on that tactic in Pakistan.
Pakistani tribesmen call for halt to US drone strikes (Xinhua)
ISLAMABAD, June 20 (Xinhua) — Some 1,200 tribesmen Monday staged a demonstration in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region against the U.S. drone strikes and threatened to block the NATO supply line if the government failed to stop the attacks.
Pakistani court directs gov’t to stop US drone strikes (Xinhua)
ISLAMABAD, June 30 (Xinhua) — A court in Pakistan Wednesday directed the government to take measures to halt strikes by the United States drone aircraft in the country’s tribal regions, local sources said.
All parties demand end to drone attacks (The Nation.pk)
[December 28] ISLAMABAD: As another drone attack killed more than 20 people on North Waziristan on Monday, all leading political parties of the country unanimously declared that these attacks were tantamount to compromising the sovereignty of Pakistan and the government and the Pakistan Army should take immediate measures to stop them.
Thousands protest US drone attacks in Peshawar (AFP)
[January 23] PESHAWAR: More than 10,000 Islamic party activists held an anti-US protest in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar Sunday calling for an immediate stop to American drone attacks in tribal areas, police said.
Pakistan tells US to stop drones (WSJ)
(April 12) Pakistan has privately demanded the Central Intelligence Agency suspend drone strikes against militants on its territory, one of the U.S.’s most effective weapons against al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, officials said.
US refuses to stop drone strikes (Pakistan Today)
[April 14] ISLAMABAD – Despite a strong protest and clear demands by Pakistan, the US seems to have refused to stop drone strikes in the Tribal Areas as was evident by Wednesday’s attack in South Waziristan thus increasing the tensions between Islamabad and Washington and endangering Pakistan-US cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
Pakistanis rally against drone strikes, block NATO supply route (Reuters)
[April 24] PESHAWAR, Pakistan – – The main supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan was temporarily closed on Sunday after thousands of people blocked a key highway in Pakistan to protest against U.S. drone strikes, officials said.
Pakistan spy chief asks US to end drone strikes: report (Reuters)
[May 22] ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s intelligence chief has reportedly asked the United States to stop its drone strikes in the country, a newspaper reported on Sunday, touching on an issue that has become more sensitive since the killing of Osama bin Laden strained ties.
Pakistan orders US out of drone base (The Guardian)
[June 30] Pakistan has stopped US drone flights from a remote airbase in the western province of Balochistan and ordered US personnel to vacate it, the defence minister has said.
CIA ordered to halt drone operations by Pakistan (New York Times)
[November 28] The Pakistani government has responded to NATO air strikes that killed at least 25 soldiers by ordering the CIA to vacate the drone operations it runs from Shamsi Air Base in northern Pakistan and closing the two main NATO supply routes into Afghanistan.
CIA has suspended drone attacks in Pakistan, US officials say (Los Angeles Times)
[December 23] The undeclared halt in CIA attacks in Pakistan, now in its sixth week, aims at reversing a sharp erosion in trust after deadly incidents, including the mistaken attack on soldiers by U.S. gunships.
Lull in strikes by US drones aids militants (New York Times)
[January 8] A nearly two-month lull in US drone strikes in Pakistan has helped embolden Al Qaeda and several Pakistani militant factions to regroup, increase attacks against Pakistani security forces, and threaten intensified strikes against allied forces in Afghanistan, US and Pakistani officials say.
Drone strikes resume amid US-Pakistan strains (Reuters)
[January 12] The U.S. resumption of drone strikes against militant targets in Pakistan does not signal an improvement in deeply frayed relations between Washington and Islamabad, U.S. officials and experts said on Wednesday.
Obama opens up about drone strikes in Pakistan (Los Angeles Times)
[January 31] President Obama offered a vigorous defense of using unmanned aircraft to kill Al Qaeda operatives and other militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas and, in the process, officially acknowledged the highly classified CIA drone program that U.S. officials had refused to discuss in public until now.
Khar to seek UK help against drone raids (DAWN)
[February 20] ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar left for the United Kingdom on Sunday on an official visit to hold wide-ranging talks with her British counterpart and other officials to persuade them to use their influence on the United States to end drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Pakistan’s legislators are urged to seek halt to US drone strikes (Washington Post)
[March 20] Reflecting the anger of Pakistan’s public and its political leaders, a parliamentary commission on Tuesday called for an end to CIA drone attacks and demanded an unconditional apology for U.S. airstrikes along the Afghan border in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Officials: White House offers to curtail drones (AP)
[March 26] In a bid to save the CIA’s drone campaign against al-Qaida in Pakistan, U.S. officials offered key concessions to Pakistan’s spy chief that included advance notice and limits on the types of targets. But the offers were flatly rejected, leaving U.S.-Pakistani relations strained as President Barack Obama prepares to meet Tuesday with Pakistan’s prime minister.
Pakistan willing to use F-16s to destroy hideouts, US told (DAWN)
[March 29] Pakistan is apparently insisting that the United States must stop drone strikes in Fata and has offered to use its own air force to destroy militant hideouts, diplomatic sources told Dawn.
The last story in the recap is a good example of how critical it is to the Pakistani government that drones stop now. They are willing to use their own air force against people in their country. They are willing to take to take orders from the US government and attack any “militant hideouts” that the US government might want hit if the US government will only stop violating their sovereignty routinely through drone strikes. Extrajudicially, they are willing to assassinate individuals who may be Pakistani citizens.
As US State Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks showed, in May 2009, then-President Asif Ali Zardari made an overture to a congressional delegation led by US Senator Patrick Leahy and requested drone technology so it would be more difficult for media or anyone else to criticize the actions the Army might take to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty. A cable from 2008 indicates then-Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani pressed the US government to “share all credible actionable threat information.” He declared, “We will hit the targets ourselves.”
The reality is that the Obama administration is largely indifferent to the rage the Pakistani government has against the US drone program. Its members slander studies on civilian deaths caused by drone attacks and say, “There are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.” And, it has no problem with the State Department holding up a Pakistani lawyer’s visa to prevent him from attending a drone summit to speak about why he opposes drone attacks in Pakistan and decided to sue the US government.
No matter how many times the people of Pakistan and their government issue ultimatums, it doesn’t matter. The Obama administration will respond with apathy and insincerity. And the disingenuous foreign policy toward Pakistan, which WikiLeaks unmasked when it released diplomatic cables and which is characteristic of US foreign policy toward most countries, will continue.
The policy of the Obama administration is probably worse than apathetic and insincere. Josh Gerstein of POLITICO reports a judge is losing patience with the Department of Justice, the Office of Legal Counsel, the Defense Department and it’s component the United States Special Operations Command and the CIA. These agencies, departments or offices have each repeatedly delayed their responses to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that seeks documents on the targeted killing program.
The judge agreed to permit another delay but left a handwritten note, “OK, but don’t ask for any more time…If government officials can give speeches about this matter without creating security problems, any involved agencies can.” Thus, the administration probably comes off as apathetic or insincere because it deliberately refuses to show empathy and risk the cover that it has because politicians, the press and the courts currently have to treat the drone program as something that is covert, even though we know so much about it (especially the “positive” aspects which administration officials have selectively leaked without threat of being fired or facing trial for releasing secret information).