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Unless there is precision in drone attacks on confirmed Al-Qaeda & Taliban hideouts in Pakistan’s tribal areas, such attacks may be counterproductive.

Counterproductive US raids into FATA

As “drone attacks” increase from across the Durand Line into Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said in Islamabad Saturday that “American and NATO missile strikes inside Pakistan are counterproductive in the war on terror and the world should urge the United States to stop the incursions”. He also said that his government was trying to isolate the Taliban from “reconcilable elements” in the Tribal Areas.

There may have been a time in the past when the drone attacks were helpful in backing up military operations by the Pakistan army. Today, however, as these operations proceed satisfactorily in Bajaur and Swat, with some action also taken in other agencies such as Aurakzai and Mohmand, the tide is slowly turning in favour of Pakistan’s efforts to reclaim the territory it had lost to the terrorists. There are elements in the new conflict landscape that now militate against the use of indiscriminate drone attacks.

For the first time, the Taliban are on the defensive and are pledging to cease hostilities and are suing for talks. Also for the first time, the people subject to the coercive control of the Taliban in the past have formed their own militias called lashkars and are fighting against them in tandem with the Pakistan army. This military action has served to water down the dominant opinion in Pakistan that, because the war is being lost, it is not Pakistan’s war. Those who hold this view constantly point to attacks from the ISAF-NATO forces from across the Durand Line and rebuke the government with having lost the state’s sovereignty to the US.

The drones may be killing some high-value terrorist targets — one is never sure about that — but they are also killing a lot of positive psychological forces in Pakistan without whose support this war cannot be won. The Pakistani parliament in a joint statement of both houses has given the military the go-ahead to operate against those who bear arms and talk to those who are willing to throw them down. The debate that occurred in the parliament equally voiced its strong protest against the US for attacking inside Pakistan and causing unacceptable collateral damage.

There are very cogent reasons why this collateral damage is not acceptable to the government and the Pakistan army. The tribesmen react strongly against collateral damage and revert to their traditional defiance by joining the forces they see opposed to the US anhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifd NATO presence in Afghanistan. Unless Pakistan is seen by them to be also fighting these cross-border US attacks, they tend to equate the Pakistan army with the US policy of killing innocent people. Let us be frank, for them “high value targets” mean nothing. Additionally, there is the hinterland reaction to take care of.

“Anti-Americanism” has increased in Pakistan and hit a peak, thanks also to the policy of drone attacks. The hinterland of settled areas has joined the tribesmen in seeing these attacks as being against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan. They condemn the government for not taking “prompt action” to bring the drone attacks to a halt. The generally accepted “solution” is for the government to say that it is not Pakistan’s war and get out of the international coalition against terrorism. This situation is very embarrassing for the army which is clearly succeeding against the Taliban but needs popular support to carry on.

The drone attacks have become a part of the anti-American rhetoric that is difficult to oppose. Above all, it is destroying the coordination which the war against terrorism demands between the Pakistan army and the US-NATO forces in Afghanistan. Things have come to such a pass that on a given day, the Foreign Office and the military information service, the ISPR, spend more time condemning the cross-border drone and missile attacks than the militancy of the Taliban. This is not good for the morale of those who are fighting the terrorists and hope to reach a point where they can challenge the dominance of Al Qaeda in the area.

The policy behind the drone attacks — that of keeping the Taliban on the defensive inside Pakistan to prevent their cross-border raids — is not succeeding because it is creating more potential seekers of revenge and killing far fewer top-notch terrorists than would be required for an all overall favourable effect. Instead, a policy of identifying the “high-value targets” to the Pakistan army and allowing it to decide what to do about them should serve the cause of war against terrorism better. A more effective arrangement can be made for this policy than has hitherto existed. One way to do that would be for the US to give a few drones to the Pakistan army so that these can become part of the Pakistani army’s arsenal in the war against terror. Then the US and Pakistan military authorities can coordinate Pakistani drone attacks on terrorist hideouts without provoking an anti-American backlash and undermining the war against terror. (Daily Times)