Pakistan: To drone or not to drone?

Published: December 18, 2012

ALI MEHDI
VANCOUVER DESI

A demonstrator holds up a burning U.S. flag during a protest against drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal region, in Multan on Dec. 6, 2012. S.S Mirza/AFP/Getty Images

Hard facts: The U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, over 300 to date, have been ongoing for eight years, wreaking irreparable collateral damage, violating its sovereignty, taking more than 3,000 lives and speaking untold volumes of misery and grief

The drone attacks have increased three-fold under the Obama Administration, compared to what they were under the Bush presidency.
The stark difference between U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan compared to the ones in Somalia and Yemen is that they are controlled by the CIA for Pakistan and the U.S. military for the latter two.

Questions arise: Who is targeting who? How many actual terrorists have been eradicated? How many innocent people and their generations have been left to languish?

Is there an actual number that answers these and numerous other questions? I am still searching for answers and so are the families of 44 elders who were recently wiped out in Datta Khel in a U.S. drone strike March 17, 2011.

They were all congregating in a “Jirga” (meeting of the elders) to discuss a mining issue in South Waziristan, Pakistan, an area that is rich in minerals.

The U.S. view? Three terrorists were killed out of the 44.

The families of the victims have approached a British-educated Pakistani lawyer to take their case to the UK, as they believe they might get justice there, not in Pakistan and certainly not in the U.S.

Modern warfare is as invisible as a thought, deprived of its meaning by distance. It is no unfettered war, but one that is controlled from small high-tech centers in various places in the world. The new (way of conducting) war is supposed to be more precise than the old one, which is why some call it “more humane.” It’s the war of an intellectual, a war United States President Barack Obama has promoted more than any of his predecessors.

The U.S. military guides its drones from seven air bases in the United States, as well as locations abroad, including one in the East African nation of Djibouti. The pixels on a screen are counted, and a button on a joy stick is pressed, unleashing a Hellfire Missile, thousands of miles away. Maybe a pixel was a terrorist, a woman, a child, who knows?

The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Khar, recently stated “we are in a serious dialogue with U.S.” A dialogue? that is still considered a dialogue when it’s been happening for eight years?

In a U.S.-led NATO strike on the Pak-Afghan border Nov. 24, 2011, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed, 13 injured. The attack comprised two NATO Apache Helicopters, an AC-130 Gunship and two F 15E-Eagle fighter jets, which violated Pakistani airspace up to 2.5 km (1.6 miles) into the Pakistani border area of Salala.

If such an unwarranted attack with manned planes and state of the art technology could go haywire and kill Pakistani troops, their own allies in this war on terror, one wonders then, how accurate are the unmanned drone attacks spitting Hellfire missiles, counting pixels on a screen and pressing “fire” on a joy stick, thousands of miles away?

Maybe they are accurate. So accurate that more drone pilots than aircraft pilots are now being trained in the U.S.

Maybe a few Al Qaeda or Taliban operatives get taken out each time and hence the current efforts of the Obama Administration to “legalize” drone attacks in six Muslim countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Libya.

Maybe the eight-year “serious dialogue” can be stretched to another eight – or 80 – years and why not, after all the Kashmiri’s are still being denied the right of self determination granted by the UN resolution passed in 1949 for over 60 years!

Maybe the famine in Africa could be addressed, while 40 per cent of the food in the U.S. today goes uneaten, which means Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion worth of food each year.

Maybe the drones are winning a battle but losing the war, creating angry survivors looking for revenge – Talibans and Al Qaeda in the making!

Maybe “legalizing” drone attacks is more important than “enforcing” gun control in the U.S., even though as tragic incidents like Columbine, Colo. or Newtown, Conn. continue to happen, more effort is seen being put in during the aftermath and none in the pre-emption.

Maybe the surge in share prices of UAV, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly known as drones, should go higher.

Today, Israel is the single largest exporter of drones worldwide, accounting for 41 per cent of the global exports of drones between 2001 and 2011. The U.S. follows closely and covetously behind.

Maybe we are all in a game called Call of Duty: Black Ops, a video game like hundreds of others that thrives on killing and nurturing the spirit of killing amongst our young ones, making them angry, vindictive and intolerant! Maybe these games are making them go out and play for real!

Maybe more lobbying is required by the drone lobby group, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). They began amplifying their concerns that the U.S. was lagging in global drone sales. Success came as they secured the domestic market for drones in February 2012, when President Obama signed the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Bill. The bill allows unmanned aircraft to fly in U.S. airspace by 2015. Maybe the guns were not just enough!

Maybe we ourselves are giving rise to Taliban and Al Qaeda, and human fatalities in Colorado, Connecticut, South and North Wazirstan, as we support and lobby for arms and the ensuing violence whilst we claim to be the frontrunners of democracy and humanity.

Maybe humanity is not humane any more. Maybe!

Ali Mehdi runs a Vancouver-based financial consultancy engaged in Private Equity and Venture Capital. An MBA from LUMS and an MSc from the London School of Economics, Ali has been in senior strategic roles in global finance with banking giants as Citi, ABN-AMRO and Barclays Capital in Europe and the Middle East. His late father, Ali Mohtasham, was a celebrated Pakistan Movement worker and an author of four books.




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