Original Articles

A case for drones: Army-friendly censorship by Najam Sethi’s The Friday Time blog

TFT-Team

Compare these two versions of the same article on drone attacks on Taliban hideouts in FATA, published by The Friday Times and Viewpoint Online.

Viewpoint: A Case for Drones and Islamic University Lecturer involvement in the highly flawed Amnesty report http://www.viewpointonline.net/site/component/content/article/38-bottomnews/3463-a-case-for-drones.html

The Friday Times (TFT) Blog http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/buzz-word/

According to our sources, freelance researcher and blogger Anas Abbas wrote an article on drones, and sent to The Friday Times blog (edited by Najam Sethi and Raza Rumi) for publication.

However, the author recently revealed on social media:

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“Not only TFT published an incomplete version (3 full paras and some important points missing) but they gave my conclusion a deliberate spin to blame everything on civilian governments rather than Pakistani Army. All my criticism against elite Leftwing (and liberal) alliance with Pakistani Islamists was deleted….Thanks Viewpoint for publishing my Drone article in verbatim.”

The Friday Times blog omitted the author’s criticism of Pakistan army backing anti-drone lobby, Jemima Khan the leftist and why Hakimullah Mehsud Deobandi of TTP died only one km away from Pakistan army headquarters. TFT blog deleted 1500 words from the author’s original piece and gave his opinions a spin to blame everything on civilian governments, not military.

Here are weblinks to two versions to show that TFT omitted all criticism against Pakistan army, pseudo-leftists and pseudo-liberals and blamed the civilians.

Viewpoint Online: http://www.viewpointonline.net/site/component/content/article/38-bottomnews/3463-a-case-for-drones.html

TFT Blog http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/buzz-word/

Since TFT blog is notorious for post-publishing manipulations, we are reproducing the full text of the army-friendly TFT version, edited by Najam Sethi and Raza Rumi:

Source: TFT Blog

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Buzz word
An assessment of Amnesty’s anti-drone report
Anas Abbas

TFT Issue: 08 Nov 2013

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The death of the TTP leader in a drone attack last week did not take place in a dingy cave or an underground bunker, but right outside his plush marble floored farmhouse with green lawns and an imposing minaret, not too far from a military headquarter.

The strike is proof that missiles fired by pilotless aircraft are precise and useful weapons against terrorism. When slain journalist Saleem Shehzad met Al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri in October 2009, he noticed that the only thing the terrorist network was afraid of were drones. Like many of his comrades, Kashmiri was killed in a drone attack in June 2011.

Because of the legal questions surrounding this new weapon of war especially made pertinent by the reported deaths of civilians, human rights organizations have questioned their use.

If drones can be heard, why don’t Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders hide before they are struck?
A recent report issued by Amnesty International criticizes the US drone policy and says some of these attacks were war crimes. The methodology of this report is strikingly similar to the report issued in 2012 by Stanford and NYU researchers assisted primarily by the Islamabad-based Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR). The FFR is headed by an Islamic University lecturer Mirza Shahzad Akbar, who is also a lawyer and an anti-drone activist. He has represented alleged drone victims in court, including people featured in the recent Amnesty report. Shahzad made headlines two years ago when he blew the cover of CIA station chief in Pakistan Jonathan Banks in a press conference.

The two reports have several things in common:

1) The lists of victims of drone attacks used in both the reports have been provided by Mirza Shahzad Akbar.

2) Both the reports admitted facing challenges in assessing the truth of the claims of the alleged victims, and their data collection methods are not convincing.

3) Researchers in both the reports did not get access to North Waziristan in order to independently verify facts. The Amnesty report claims that they got partial access to South Waziristan but under the supervision of Pakistan Army, which is known to have opposed drone attacks.

4) The witnesses in both the reports claim hearing the buzzing of drones carrying out surveillance operations overhead.

The involvement of Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer of drone victim Rafiq Rehman who testified before the US Congress and also happens to be the subject of the case study used by the Amnesty International report, questions the credibility of these reports. Both of them relied on the FFR for accessing and interviewing drone attack victims, despite the apparent conflict of interest. Why would such an organization provide access to the perspective of residents who favour drone attacks or question the claims of those who oppose them?

The validity of the claims of the some of the interviewees in the Amnesty report (which describes itself as a “qualitative assessment”) is especially doubtful because they said they could not sleep because of the constant buzz of drones flying overhead. American military correspondent David Axe questions this claim in an article titled Dear Amnesty International, Do You Even Know How Drones Work?

“Predators and Reapers spend most of their time at altitudes where they are generally inaudible,” he says. “It’s for that reason that the US Army used Predators in Iraq to orbit over insurgents’ meetings, striking them only after all the fighters had gathered together”. He quotes US Army Gen Raymond Odierno as saying on TV that a Predator flies at about 10,000 feet, and the insurgents cannot hear it. That is in line with their primary goal – so spy. “So what are the Pakistanis in the tribal region seeing and hearing?” asks Axe.

If the drones can be heard, why don’t Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders hide before they are struck?

Liberal anti-war activists in the world have led the world to believe that all Pakistanis oppose drone attacks. That is not true. A large number of Pakistani people, and civilian and military officials, believe the use of drones has significant strategic advantages for Pakistan. In 2011, Major General Ghayur Mehmood made a press briefing about drone attacks. His data showed a large number of militant leaders had been killed in such strikes, and civilian casualties were much less than are reported.

While Pakistani leaders say drones are heightening anti-US sentiments in Pakistan, some analysts say the Pakistani political leadership opposes drone attacks to exploit anti-American feelings for political mileage.

In the last 10 years, terrorist violence in Pakistan has caused 50,000 civilian deaths, economic losses, and a breakdown of law and order that has hurt the Pakistani society in unimaginable ways. But the government has not been able to formulate a coherent strategy to deal with the threat. Instead, it has been criticizing the US for a campaign that has caused significant damage to the terrorist leaders in Pakistan.

The TFT and Viewpoint links highlight that TFT omitted 1500 words from the author’s 2400 word article.

They deleted all criticism against Pakistan army and their role in backing the lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akhbar who represents Taliban in the guise of drone attacks victims.

Also all criticism against pro-establishment fake liberals and fake leftists (urban elites) was deleted since the author had mentioned them how they lambast drone attacks for the sake of achieving the activist label, or to promote or safeguard their personal political or economic interests.

Finally, the author mentions in the Viewpoint Online version that Pakistan military and ISI backs anti drone lobby and anti Americanism, but TFT changed this to say civilians did this and blamed civilians for everything.

This is typical tactic by the Sethi lobby and other pro-establishment fake liberals to exonerate Pakistan’s most powerful institution (army, ISI) while pasing the blame on to much more disempowered civilian leadership.

The present case is a classical exmaple of how a seemingly liberal outlet (TFT blog) censors an independent piece which is now available on another website Viewpoint Online. This shows the extent of power that Pakistan army and its agencies currently have on Pakistani media and blogs.

Who says pro-establishment fake liberals of English press are less powerful than right-wing Islamists of Urdu press? A post or comment against right-wingers Ansar Abbasi or Orya Maqbool Jan generates much more comments and likes, compared to objective criticism of pro-establishment fake liberals and fake leftists. – badaltay rehtay hain andaaz-e-kufi-o-shaami

It is our considered view that the Najam Sethi lobby of pro-establishment fake liberals (operating in media outlets as diverse as TFT blog, Jinnah Institute, Jang Group (Geo, The News, Jang) etc) is an integral part of Pakistan’s almight military establishment. We advise independent authors and bloggers to steer clear of the Jinnah Institute, The Friday Times and other pro-establishment fronts, as much as possible, for the sake of their own integrity and credibility. Our advice is equally valid for the anti-establishment female scholar who is currently denting her own credibility by publishing in Najam Sethi’s TFT Blog and enjoying free flights and hotel accommodation via ISI-funded Jinnah Institute.

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  • Full text of unedited version published by Viewpoint online:

    A case for drones
    Saturday, 09 November 2013 15:26by Anas Abbas | PDF | Print | E-mail

    Pakistan does not possess any strategy of making peace with TTP, nor any process to monitor peace agreements, hence drone strikes are the best viable alternative to battle with these terrorists

    Hakimullah Mehsud’s luck finally ran out. The death of the TTP leader by drone did not take place in a dingy cave or an underground bunker, but right next to his plush marble floored farmhouse, green lawns and imposing minaret.

    One cannot escape the sense of déjà vu at the proximity of the Pakistan Army Headquarters for Waziristan situated at a distance of just 1 km from Mehsud’s farmhouse; another deadly terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was taken out by the Americans a few years ago at his house in Abbottabad which was in the vicinity of Army Headquarters too. Needless to say, Hakeemullah Mehsud was an arch foe of Pakistan and had masterminded killings of thousands of men, women and children during the reign of terror.
    But after the confirmation of his demise by TTP, his image of being Pakistan’s enemy number one transformed into that of a hero. The Pakistan government and certain political parties lamented his killing while the Federal Interior Minister, Nisar Ali Khan, termed his killing as “murder of peace.”
    The PTI leader, Imran Khan, did not display as much emotion at the killing of his own MPs as he did when reacting to the news of Hakeemullah’s death. Jamat-e-Islami’s chief Syed Munawar Hasan went to the extent of calling him “a martyr for peace.”
    The commonality in criticism of Hakeemullah’s death from all sections of Pakistani society including the government is that Hakeemullah’s killing has nixed any chance of peace. This is a highly absurd logic considering that all past peace agreements between TTP and Pakistan have been broken by TTP itself because these peace agreements served as a strategic objective for TTP and Al Qaeda. They wanted to gain some breathing space through the so-called peace deals in order to strengthen and restructure themselves from time to time for their long term struggle against Pakistan and the United States.
    But when Pakistan government saw that a drone strike has taken place which has killed Hakimullah Mehsud they decided to exploit the strike by blaming it on the breakdown of any chances of peace negotiations. Since anti-Americanism is so widespread in Pakistan and sentiments against drones on an all-time high, the government thought failure of talks should be blamed on drone strikes so that in future their critics cannot fault the government for failure of talks and instead blame the Americans. This strike against Hakimullah Mehsud again proves that drone strikes are precise and highly productive weapons. The highest number of terrorists have been eliminated through drone strikes as opposed to being arrested or nabbed by police or Army. Since Hakeemullah was TTP’s top leader, it is highly likely that there will be a leadership crisis amongst the various groups which will lead to infighting. This will benefit Pakistan if the government decides to exploit this weakness of TTP.
    When the slain journalist Syed Saleem Shehzad met Al Qaeda’s leader Ilyas Kashmiri in October 2009 then he not only learnt about Kashmiri’s strategy in Al Qaeda’s theatre of war but he also noticed that there was one thing that was panicking Al Qaeda which were these drone strikes. He describes his meeting with Kashmiri in detail in his book published in 2011. (Please refer to the detailed report by Sabir Shah in The News regarding the list of all Al Qaeda leaders killed by drones).

    However, drone strikes are not without their limitations. Ever since they have been conducted there has been a vigorous campaign against them by drone critics and human rights organizations. The fundamental issue with drone attacks has been the matter of civilian casualties. Drone critics argue that advocates of drone policy grossly undermine the civilian casualty figures and provide legitimacy to these strikes.

    A recent report issued by Amnesty International provides a detailed account of victims of drone strikes that criticizes the US’s drone policy and classed them as war crimes. However, the methodology of this report is strikingly similar to the report issued in 2012 Stanford/NYU clinics that was made with the prime assistance from Islamabad based (FFR) Foundation for Fundamental Rights. This organization FFR is headed by an Islamic University lecturer Mirza Shahzad Akbar who also happens to be an advocate, an anti-drone activist and a lawyer representing what he claims are victims of American drone strikes. The same Shehzad is also the lawyer of the victims whose ordeal has been featured in the recent Amnesty report. Both these [Stanford/NY and Amnesty] reports have many commonalities such as:
    1) All the victims of drone attacks have been provided by Mirza Shehzad Akbar.
    2) The reports have explicitly said that they faced insurmountable challenges in terms of assessing the true opinions of the affectees of the drone strikes who were reluctant in speaking to foreigners and local journalists about issues raised in the reports because of reprisal attacks from elements such as Pakistani military, intelligence services, American CIA and other terrorist groups. Both reports are a failure in convincing the reader of their modus operandi for obtaining information. If, as they say, victims were afraid to speak out, how do we know then that the information they did give was not given under duress?
    3) The reports have claimed that they cannot be certain about all the facts reported about these cases. Instead they have urged US authorities to disclose facts so that picture would be clearer.
    4) Both teams of researchers in both reports did not get access to North Waziristan in order to independently verify the real situation. However, Amnesty report claims that they not possible got partial access to South Waziristan but under the supervision of the Pakistan Army. If they conducted their research under the due diligence of the Pakistan Army, then is it that those who escorted them will take them to the places which would serve the anti-drone campaign?
    5) The reports have concluded after interviewing drone victims that they are under the surveillance of the drones which are constantly buzzing overhead and disturbing them.

    Perhaps there are only two differences between these two reports. Firstly, the Stanford/NYU clinic report was a mere university project for which foreign university students came to Islamabad to interview drone victims whereas Amnesty International not only interviewed people but also conducted a field investigation and research by sending their teams to South Waziristan escorted by Pakistan Army. The former report lacked criticism of Pakistan Army in providing adequate compensation and assistance to victims of drone strikes while Amnesty report contains a detailed critique of the Army and revealed how it has conducted indiscriminate operations in Waziristan area and overlooked the sufferings of victims.

    Most contentious issue in these reports is the involvement of Mirza Shehzad Akbar, the lawyer of drone victim Rafiq Rehman who not only testified before US Congress but who also happens to be the subject of the case study used by the Amnesty International report. The participation of Shehzad vitiates the credibility and veracity of these reports because they substantially relied on Shehzad’s organization (FFR) for accessing and interviewing drone strike victims. This created a conflict of interest between the FFR and the researchers since FFR is a known legal advocate for drone victims in Pakistan. It would only be logical to presume that they would be inclined against the drones and would present evidence only to support their perspective and not of those residents who are in favour of it.

    Most important of all, Shahzad is the same person who blew the cover of the CIA station chief, Jonathan Banks, in Pakistan in a press conference two years ago; it seems almost effortless the ease with which a mere practicing lawyer in Pakistan knows the identity of CIA’s station chief which is always a highly confidential information in any country. It is likely that elements within Pakistan’s security establishment were feeding Shahzad this information as he was working on an agenda provided by them.

    Apart from Shehzad, there were other flaws in the Amnesty report which cannot be overlooked e.g the victims in the report have testified that they cannot sleep because of the sound of the drones flying overhead. The issue with this evidence is, as David Axex describes that, “Predators and Reapers spend most of their time at altitudes where they are generally inaudible. It’s for that reason that the U.S. Army used Predators in Iraq to orbit over insurgents’ meetings, striking them only after all the fighters had gathered together”.

    “Predator flies at about 10,000 feet,” Army Gen. Raymond Odierno told 60 Minutes. “It’s so high up [the insurgents] have trouble hearing it.”
    “So what are the Pakistanis in the tribal region seeing and hearing—and what’s killing them in cases when the drones aren’t overhead”?

    It is ludicrous for Amnesty International to portray drones as being so noisy that they prevent people from sleeping because the fundamental aim of drones is to spy and be silent and monitor their target for hours. If, according to Amnesty, drones are proving to be so much a disturbance for civilians, then how is that terrorists are not able to evade them and hide before they strike? Amnesty International has not disclosed any mechanism in their report through which they have ascertained that those victims investigated were really the victims of a drone strike or of F16 and JF17 which Pakistan Army has been using to conduct it’s own operations in Waziristan. Amnesty has itself said that the Army has been conducting indiscriminate operations in Waziristan and has shown negligence in killing civilians. Another strong possibility is that these survivors could be the victims of terrorist groups fighting in amongst themselves and Nato and Pakistani forces.

    In the past 10 years, the terrorist violence in Pakistan has led to 50,000 casualties, colossal economic upheavals and a breakdown of law and order which has led to a curtailment of sporting and other events. Still the Pakistani state is unable to form a single coherent strategy to counter these terrorist groups. But the fierce drone assassination campaign of America against the terrorists has greatly benefited Pakistan as it has caused leadership and strategic crisis among terrorists depriving them of strategists, plotters and fighters that would naturally result in overall reduction in suicide attacks in Pakistan. Many top terrorist leaders who have killed thousands of Pakistanis have not been captured by the Pakistani state but have been mowed down by drones. The strategic advantages of drones are apparent and the criticism contained against them in reports such as Stanford/NYU report and Amnesty report are based on half-baked assumptions as analyzed above.
    Pakistani state has always maintained a policy, as supported by recent disclosure by the Washington Post, that in public while they protest drones to show their masses that they are on the same page but secretly they have an agreement with the US government to go ahead with the drone strikes. This is mainly because of the vitriolic anti-Americanism that is pervasive across Pakistan and has spread so much that even if the government wishes to mitigate it, it will not happen because it is afraid of the backlash from it’s citizens and hyperbolic media.
    Most local Pakistani drone criticism is being precipitated by elements of domestic intelligence agencies. The reason is that though they are aware of the strategic advantages of drone strikes, they are selective in their support. When drone strikes target anti-Pakistan Taliban elements, they support the action but when it strikes Haqqani group (which is supported by Pakistan) it is not liked by Pakistan.

    This is the reason why when these elements want to charge up an anti-drone atmosphere, they use people like Shehzad Akbar. It is likely that these elements leaked the identity (which is a closely guarded secret) of the CIA station chief to Shehzad Akbar. It would not be wrong to say that in Pakistan there is not only the anti-drone lobby: there is also the pro-drone lobby which is present in the government as well as the military. They realize that drones have great strategic advantages for Pakistan which is why from time to time they disseminate their information in the media, e.g. Major General Ghayur Mehmood delivered a briefing in 2011 that drone strikes mostly kill terrorists and very few civilians. The same view has recently been echoed by the Interior Ministry.

    Protesting against drones has become an activist phenomenon and gradually the prominent Western left wing and anti-war activists have formed an alliance with those Pakistanis lobbying against drones, e.g. last year when Code Pink activists collaborated with “fulminators” (as written by Ali Sethi) like General Hameed Gul. Similarly, another prominent self-styled leftish activist Jemima Khan created an anti-drone atmosphere by co-producing anti-drone documentaries made by left wing organizations and by praising a known conspiracy theorist and anti-India fanatic Mubashir Lucman as “hero” in order to promote and market the documentaries.

    Drone critics like Jemima whine about drone civilian casualties over last 10 years but these people have no realization that over the same period Pakistan has lost 50,000 of it’s citizens. Why do they not make their documentaries on these victims who no one pays any attention to or offers any compensation to? Why the undue stress on only drone victims? This is because these leftish activists not only precipitate anti-Americanism in Pakistan by criticizing drone strikes and portraying America as evil but also exploit it in order to gain an activist label and let themselves be used by anti-drone lobby in Pakistan in order to heat up anti-drone pressure on their Western governments.

    These kind of tactics are not new. During the Vietnam War, Russian KGB and GRU have supported and funded some anti-war movements in the USA in order to charge up anti-war sentiments, as revealed by various KGB defectors and declassified CIA documents. Similarly, CIA also funded various propaganda campaigns in order to fund Mujahideen during the Soviet Afghan war. It is highly likely that Pakistani anti-drone lobby employs similar tactics along with western anti-drone activists in order to build up pressure against America.

    As analyzed above, Amnesty International Report is not to be taken as conclusive or an investigative report on drone strikes as it is full of obvious of flaws. The report describes itself as not a comprehensive survey but a qualitative assessment.
    It’s about time Pakistan wakes up to the strategic advantages of drone strikes and its role in terminating some of the top TTP leaders such as Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain, Qari Zafar, Wali-ur-Rehman etc who have killed thousands of Pakistanis. Pakistan does not possess any strategy of making peace with TTP, nor any process to monitor peace agreements, hence drone strikes are the best viable alternative to battle with these terrorists and Pakistani politicians and especially the Army should try to educate the media and public about strategic advantages of drones in order to mitigate the anti-drone atmosphere.

    Anas Abbas is Financial Analyst, Researcher and Blogger with interests in counter-terrorism, philosophy & history. Twitter: @Anas_Abbas1

    http://www.viewpointonline.net/site/component/content/article/38-bottomnews/3463-a-case-for-drones.html

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