Shrouded in secrecy, drone attacks have turned into propaganda tools for both defenders and critics. Because the international and Pakistani media are denied access to the tribal areas, the target territory of drone attacks, the precise count of casualties remains unclear, writes Liaquat Ali Khan.
Middle East Online
On May 14, after deliberations of over 10 hours, the democratically-elected Pakistan Parliament in a joint session of both houses passed a unanimous resolution to reclaim Pakistan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national security against US military actions. Invoking the U.N. Charter, international law, and humanitarian norms, the resolution specifically condemns “the continued drone attacks on the territory of Pakistan,” which have increased manifold under President Obama. The resolution empowers the Pakistan Government “to consider taking necessary steps including withdrawal of transit facility allowed to NATO/ISAF forces” in case the CIA-operated drone attacks are not “stopped forthwith.” The Parliament also expressed “its deep distress” over “the campaign in certain (US) quarters” to malign Pakistan as a nation that secretly supports terrorist outfits.
The US National Security Council (NSC), the President’s principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters, should take notice of the rising anti-Americanism in Pakistan. It must review the policy of drone attacks and find ways to establish rapport with the Pakistan Parliament. Failure to do so would most likely harm US strategic and foreign policy interests.
Drones as Propaganda Tools
Shrouded in secrecy, drone attacks have turned into propaganda tools for both defenders and critics. Because the international and Pakistani media are denied access to the tribal areas, the target territory of drone attacks, the precise count of casualties remains unclear. Furthermore, no one knows with certainty whether drones kill more militants or civilians. Defenders, mostly in the US, support drones as efficacious machines to fight militants lodged in inaccessible mountains. Critics, mostly in Pakistan, condemn drones as lawless gadgets that kill innocent men, women, and children, the indigenous population of tribal areas.
The Pakistani electronic media, exercising its newly-found freedom of expression, is the greatest critic of drone attacks. Day after day, Pakistani anchors, sitting among politicians, government officials, and opinion makers, condemn drone attacks, reinforcing the unprecedented anti-Americanism throughout Pakistan. Even pro-Western elites, educated in American universities and trained in military academies, are disappointed with the US disrespect for Pakistan as a nation. The NSC must not underestimate the fallout of these negative sentiments.
The NSC is reported to have examined the Parliament’s resolution and the rising anti-Americanism. Some in the NSC oppose the frequency, and perhaps the wisdom, of drone attacks, particularly at the eve of Afghanistan war. All in the NSC, however, know that Pakistan has few operable options to stop drone attacks. Pakistan cannot shoot down drones for such countermeasures would invite the US Congress to impose economic and military sanctions, in addition to withholding billions of dollars in assistance. Pakistan is also unlikely to withdraw transit facilities for fear of jeopardizing trade and diplomatic relations with NATO states. In no way can Pakistan afford a dramatic breach with the US
Nonetheless, a helpless Pakistan, under intense anti-American pressure at home, may begin to take small steps to drift away toward China, the so-called all-weather friend, and possibly woo Russia, modifying its pro-US foreign policy. A Silk-Route alliance, including China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asian states, is unlikely to forge anytime soon, but Pakistan, more than China, will be the key to such an alliance. Central Asian states, rich in natural resources, will find the alliance economically appealing. The alliance with Muslim states will effectively eliminate the Uighur secessionist threat in the Xinjiang province, a huge benefit to China. India too is unlikely to fully embrace the US as a counter-weight to the Silk-Route Alliance. India cannot trust the US after the US brutally degrades and abandons Pakistan, a sixty-year old subservient ally. The Silk-Route alliance may thus expel the US from the region.
Courting Pakistan’s Parliament
If the NSC wishes to retain Pakistan as an ally, it must take immediate steps to demonstrate that it respects Pakistan’s democratically-elected Parliament. The NSC may consider the following steps in mending the breach with the Parliament:
1. The NSC should invite influential members of the Parliament to the US to meet with members of Congress for meaningful exchange of views. Members of Congress must also visit Pakistan to make the case for the US national security. This democratic bilateralism will deepen mutual understanding of elected institutions.
2. The NSC should dissuade government officials and members of Congress from issuing provocative statements that paint Pakistan as an unreliable or duplicitous ally. Such degrading rhetoric is more appropriate after the NSC decides to ditch Pakistan as an ally.
3. The NSC should stop drone attacks forthwith, meeting a key demand of Pakistan’s Parliament. Killing a few more militants cannot change the ground realties of the Afghan war. In alienating the people of Pakistan and its Parliament, the drone attacks cause more harm than benefit to US geostrategic interests.
These and similar steps will launch a pragmatic policy of treating Pakistan as a dignified ally, which recognizes Pakistan’s sacrifices in supporting the US campaign against terrorism. With the rising anti-Americanism, Pakistan will no longer remain a slave state.
Liaquat Ali Khan is professor of Law at Washburn University School of Law and the author of A Theory of Universal Democracy (2003).