How and why Obama is helping Pakistan with his drone strikes
by Ramtanu Maitra on 03 May 2014 4 Comments
In less than eight months, the United States and NATO will pull most, if not all, of their troops out of Afghanistan to end a decade-long disastrous and wholly opaque military campaign. It can now be said with confidence that al-Qaeda, ostensibly the United States’ prime enemy, is not just barely alive in Pakistan, but is doing well. That situation did not develop in a vacuum. There is enough evidence to make a credible claim that the Obama administration - which had assured the American people that it would eliminate al-Qaeda by pumping billions of dollars and 130,000 troops into Afghanistan - did not fail; rather, it did not really try to achieve what was promised.


In his 2014 State of the Union message, Obama declared that “al-Qaeda’s core leadership is on a path to defeat,” but in reality he has made no serious effort in recent years to eliminate al-Qaeda in Pakistan and in an indirect way collaborated with al-Qaeda in Libya and Syria. If the American president had any intention of crushing al-Qaeda, he would have launched at least one drone strike into Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province adjacent to Afghanistan. In 2001, al-Qaeda operatives moved into Pakistan by planeloads after the US military dislodged the Taliban government in Kabul. In the 1990s, the Afghan Taliban was complicit in accommodating al-Qaeda operatives, including Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan.


In a Jan. 13 article in the Daily Beast, “Al-Qaeda’s Next Comeback Could Be Afghanistan and Pakistan,” American analyst and former intelligence officer Bruce Riedel points out: “Pakistan provides the Taliban with safe haven and sanctuary to train and recruit its fighters and protects its leaders, including Mullah Omar. The Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, helps train and fund the Taliban… Al-Qaeda found a new base in Pakistan after we toppled Mullah Omar’s Afghan emirate in 2001.”


But Obama’s drones were not targeted at these al-Qaeda members; they have been used only against those who belong to the Taliban Tehrik-e-Pakistan (TTP), or the Pakistani Taliban. TTP terrorists have neither the Americans nor the Afghans in their cross-hair, but only the Pakistani military and military-controlled Islamabad. In other words, American taxpayers’ money has been spent to protect those who harbor and shelter al-Qaeda operatives in their own land.


Where is the proof for such assertions? It lies in the realities. During all these years, not a single drone strike occurred in the vicinity of Pakistan’s Baloch city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura is based. It has been widely documented that during the last half of the 1990s the head of the Quetta Shura, Mullah Omar, enjoying the open support of the Saudis and the Pakistani military, had tortured and maimed Afghans while waving the Saudi-supplied Wahhabi flag of Islamic tenets. He harbored Osama bin Laden, the numero uno in the al-Qaeda movement, perhaps under pressure from the Pakistani ISI. It is also likely that the present al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is now somewhere in Pakistan, protected by Rawalpindi and the Pakistan Army-dominated government in Islamabad.


In an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN on April 6, when asked whether al-Qaeda’s proxy force is the Taliban, New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall, author of The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014, said: “The Taliban, yes, and actually al-Qaeda has shown there they were protecting and hiding bin Laden. And al-Zawahiri, who’s taken over from bin Laden, is head of al-Qaeda, he’s in Pakistan. And I have a passage in the book which shows that they certainly, in 2005, they were hiding him, the Pakistani government.” Adding further clarity to her earlier statement, she stated that Pakistan knows exactly where Zawahiri is: “Yes. Absolutely.”


Yet finding out whether the al-Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri is ensconced in Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was hidden for years, or in some other garrison town in Pakistan, is apparently not on Pres. Obama’s radar screen. Since his presidency will be over in 2016, it is likely that he does not feel the need to bump up his popularity the way the raid in Abbottabad and the killing of Osama did in 2011. It is important to find out why Washington helps protect those terrorists, who the Pakistanis train and arm, and who have killed many Americans.


Drones: Who Gets Hit


Aggregate data on drone strikes was provided by the London-based The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization, and has circulated widely. TBIJ reported that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474 to 881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228 to 1,362 individuals. The report includes the harrowing narratives of many survivors, witnesses and family members who provided evidence of civilian injuries and deaths in drone strikes to the researchers. It also presents detailed accounts of three separate strikes, for which there is evidence of civilian deaths and injuries, including a March 2011 strike on a meeting of tribal elders that killed some 40 individuals. Since then, Washington has launched many more attacks and killed many more “Taliban suspects” and, in all likelihood, killed and maimed many others who were not even suspects, but family members or curious bystanders.


There is no doubt that the numbers, particularly the number of civilians who were killed by these missiles, are contested. Since the Pakistani military brass - working hand-in-glove with the Americans while putting up a pretense of opposition to the drone strikes in its territory by a foreign power - refuse to release any believable data, it is well-nigh impossible to find out how many Pakistanis were the victims of America-fired drones.


An October 2013 United Nations report by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, explained why the world does not know more about the drone victims. The report said: “There is strong evidence to suggest that between June 2004 and June 2008 remotely piloted aircraft strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were conducted with the active consent and approval of senior members of the Pakistani military and intelligence service, and with at least the acquiescence and, in some instances, the active approval of senior government figures.”


While the Americans kept on showering deadly missiles on FATA, they did not deliver a single drone strike against the Quetta shura, the assembly of hardcore Afghan Taliban who are protected and “used” by the Saudi-controlled Pakistan military in Balochistan. These Taliban extremists, in collaboration with such Pakistan-bred terrorist group as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, kill Hazara Shi’as who had sought refuge in Balochistan during the 1990s to protect themselves from the wanton killings unleashed by the Afghan Taliban. According to Muatasim Qazi, an exiled Baloch writer, the United States pressed Pakistan to extend the drone operations to areas around Quetta in southwest Balochistan to target the Quetta Shura, but were stymied by Pakistan’s opposition. With all due respect, one may wonder why it is the case that in Obama’s war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Washington needed to clear its targets with the Pakistani military, aka Saudi Arabia, the protectors and financiers of many terrorists.


Why Quetta Shura Is Protected


One may also ask why the Pakistan army is eager to condone Obama’s killings in FATA while opposing drone strikes against the Quetta Shura. To explain these anomalies, a number of other unpleasant realities need to be taken into consideration. To begin with, as has been said again and again by analysts in the United States, most, if not all, terrorist attacks that have occurred in recent years in Kabul and in adjacent provinces were the doing of those terrorists who were harbored and armed by the Pakistan army.


Whatever the objectives were, besides killing mostly innocent Afghans, it is evident that these terrorist acts were carried out to destabilize the Karzai administration - an objective which does not upset the Obama administration - and unravel the Afghan National Army (ANA) so that the Afghan Taliban, in collaboration with al-Qaeda, could make a comeback when the “firenghees” eventually leave Afghanistan. It is a shame that the ANA, developed with American taxpayers’ money and the efforts of the Pentagon and NATO, remains dispensable because the Pakistan military and the Saudis consider it an obstacle to their march to seize control of Kabul.


In addition, it must be noted that the Pakistan army has long been under attack from the TTP. Earlier military campaigns in FATA or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were often accompanied by violent terrorist-led backlashes in the Punjab and the National Capital Area, but outside of the warzone. “Spikes in mass-casualty attacks against security-related targets in the National Capital Area and the Punjab accompanied the 2008 Swat campaign and the fall 2009 military campaign in the FATA. However, since an intense wave of violence in late 2009, mass-casualty attacks against security-related targets, especially against Pakistan’s armed forces, have greatly diminished in the National Capital Area and the Punjab. In contrast, mass-casualty attacks against security forces in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the FATA, as well as against police units, continue unabated (Stimson Institute, Mass-Casualty Attacks in Pakistan, Sept. 12, 2011).


It is evident that the Pakistan army is now mortally afraid to take on the TTP in FATA and depends largely on Washington’s “targeted” drone attacks to curb their foe. Obama knows that the TTP does not pose a threat to Americans, but rather to Rawalpindi. Yet last May, Pres. Obama said: “America does not take strikes to punish individuals - we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat.”


Pakistan Created or Nurtured Extremists


In her book, The Wrong Enemy, Gall said that on the basis of eyewitness reports and the evidence she had gathered from Afghan, Pakistani and American sources, she was convinced that the Pakistani officials and intelligence officers had created, or nurtured, most of the Islamist extremist groups that operate in the two adjoining countries. It is widely documented that some of these terrorist groups that the Pakistan ISI/military protect include the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. But there are others, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IUM), terrorists from Chechen seeking secession from the Russian Federation, Uyghur terrorists who seek the secession of East Turkestan from China, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harkatul Mujahideen and several other groups serving the interests of Saudi Arabia, in particular, and that of al-Qaeda.


Gall said extremist groups are based in Pakistan. She also stated that the terrorist-controllers send madrassa students to blow up Pakistanis as well as Afghans and Americans with their suicide bombers’ vests, while the ISI intimidates or kills local journalists and expels those foreign ones who come too close to the truth. It is also well known that tip-offs on terrorist activities in Pakistan from Kabul or Washington have sometimes resulted not in arrest of the suspects but in their escape with ISI help - or even in the informant’s murder.


One does not have to be a rocket scientist to realize the truth in what Gall has written. To begin with, most of the terrorist incidents nowadays occur in Afghanistan’s Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Nangarhar, Laghman, Wardak and Logan provinces adjacent to FATA. These provinces constitute only a very small slice of Afghan territory, yet a majority of terrorist acts were committed in this area. It is likely that the terrorists from Pakistan hope to keep the road to Kabul “soft” in order to get there, with the active help of Pakistan military personnel in disguise, at the appointed time - in other words, a repeat of 1995.


Gall’s observation about the Pakistan military’s role in the Afghan killings is not much different from what Pakistan’s former ambassador to United States, Hussain Haqqani, had pointed out in his book, Magnificent Delusions (Public Affairs, 2013). He explained from the viewpoint of an insider how successive Islamabad governments had demanded and secured money and weapons from Washington while simultaneously promoting Islamic extremism to the detriment of both the United States and Pakistan.


But Why Does Obama Condone It?


Why doesn’t the Obama administration find it morally reprehensible to protect al-Qaeda, the alleged perpetrator of 9/11? This is not a simple question to answer, but the most educated guess is that it is the geopolitical conflict of interest that “prevents” Washington from doing the right thing. Perhaps some other American president would not be so swayed.


One of the primary reasons why the Obama administration has allowed Pakistan to protect America’s sworn enemies is because Islamabad, under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has become just another province of Riyadh. Whatever the Saudis demand, PM Sharif has to comply with and, in return, gets paid for it. The Washington-Riyadh-Islamabad alliance of geopolitical interest is a major factor in Pakistan’s harboring of al-Qaeda.


When Nawaz Sharif returned to power in Islamabad last year, this is what Bruce Riedel pointed out: “Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is likely to be even less vigorous in fighting al-Qaeda than his predecessor Asif Zardari. Zardari did see al-Qaeda as a threat; he knows it helped to kill his wife, Benazir Bhutto. During Sharif’s previous two terms in office in the 1990s, the jihadist Frankenstein in Pakistan blossomed. Despite repeated requests from President Bill Clinton between 1997 and 1999, Sharif took no action to apprehend bin Laden, attack his infrastructure in Pakistan and Afghanistan, pressure the Taliban and Mullah Omar to control him or extradite him to Saudi Arabia. During Sharif’s election campaign in 2013, his party’s rallies and candidates were never attacked by the Taliban or other jihadists, while those of the other parties were under constant fire and attack” (“Al-Qaeda’s Next Comeback Could Be Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Bruce Riedel, The Daily Beast, Jan. 13, 2014).


Anyway, Sharif’s return to power is otherwise a virtual non-event. Washington continues to recognize the non-importance of Islamabad, no matter who sits in the prime minister’s office. Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown and author of Fighting to the End, a book on the Pakistan army’s strategic culture, said that she has not seen any evidence that the military has ceded real control to the civilian government. “The Pakistan military doesn’t have to run the country to have its preferred policy operationalized,” she said, adding that this is why the US military still works directly with the generals in that strategically critical Central Asian nation. (“US seeks to navigate military-civilian power blocs in Pakistan,” Medill News Service, John Kuhn, April 22, 2014).


In fact, things have developed very much along the lines Riedel predicted but, in addition, the United States has become more involved. For instance, Pakistan’s active cooperation in allowing some of the protected terrorists to travel to Syria and in arming them was ordered by Saudi Arabia, who wants the Wahhabi-terrorists to get control of Syria. It so happens that the Obama administration, continuing with George W Bush’s regime-change policy, welcomes all Saudi-led measures that could remove the non-Sunni, duly-elected ruler in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad. Here there is a perfectly harmonious alliance between the Obama administration, the Pakistan military and those al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who have travelled from Pakistan to Syria to fight on behalf of their benefactors.


This arrangement was formalized and put on paper by the Saudis and Pakistan a little more than a month after Riedel’s article appeared. Following talks in Islamabad on Feb. 18 between the visiting Saudi crown prince, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the two countries demanded “the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers enabling it to take charge of the affairs of the country (Syria)” (“Ouster of Assad regime: Riyadh wins Islamabad’s support on Syria,” The Express Tribune, Kamran Yousaf, Feb. 18, 2014).


Official sources told The Express Tribune that the two sides went on to call for an immediate withdrawal of all “foreign armed forces and elements” from Syrian territory. This is believed to be a reference to the Iranian support to the Assad regime. In addition, sources told The Express Tribune that in return for supporting Saudi Arabia on Syria, Pakistan was expected to get defense contracts and other economic favors from the oil-rich kingdom. In fact, the Saudis had already delivered the pay-packet to Islamabad.


On March 17, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Finance Mohammad Ishaq Dar said in a television interview: “We should thank the ‘friendly countries’ for donating $1.5 billion as ‘gift’ for the people of Pakistan.” A few days earlier, a Reuters report from Islamabad (March 14) made clear that, indeed, Saudi Arabia had “loaned” $1.5 billion to Pakistan in February to help Islamabad shore up its foreign exchange reserves, meet debt-service obligations and undertake large energy and infrastructure projects.


In addition to the Pakistani-Saudi alliance to remove Bashar al-Assad, a project that is close to Pres. Obama’s heart, Pakistani military personnel have also been deployed in Bahrain to protect the al-Thanis, an adjunct of the Wahhabi House of Saud. Lending such protection became a necessity as a counter to prevent the majority Bahrainis - who are mostly, but not all, Shi’as - from establishing a democratic government in that country. This Pakistani-Saudi move to prolong the sheikhdom and deny a majority democratic rule enjoys full support from the Obama administration.


Moreover, by training, arming and protecting the Chechen, Uyghur and Uzbek terrorists - all of whom are linked to the international Islamic jihadis - the Pakistan military is perhaps serving the long-term geopolitical interests of Washington. It is likely that the Obama administration believes that eliminating the Pakistan-based al-Qaeda-linked terrorists is in conflict with those interests in the Eurasian region.

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top