Droning of U.S.-Pakistan relations

The U.S., as the sole super power of the world, must take it upon itself to share the biggest responsibility for global peace

Mansoor Jafar
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The love-hate relationship between Pakistan and the United States entered a new phase recently after hundreds of workers from several opposition parties blocked the NATO supply line in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province while the government kept silent in the face of expected mass reprisal.

This move came in the wake of rising rage across the country, generated by the continued U.S. drone attacks and the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the banned militant Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in a drone attack last month. Just hours before he was killed, a government delegation was to meet him for negotiating peace in the country and bringing an end to suicide attacks and ambushes on military convoys and installations in the decade long insurgency.

Hakimullah was not the first TTP chief the U.S. assassinated by drones right on the eve of peace negotiations with Islamabad. Many of his predecessors were killed in the same fashion over the last seven years, just when they were about to discuss peace with Islamabad. The killings of TTP heads became a sore point among the Pakistani nation whose majority believes Washington was against the restoration of peace in Pakistan and was using drone attacks to generate more suicide bombers that could attack the Pakistani army and civilians.

Washington initially countered the blockade move by announcing that it had given up supplies through Pakistan itself and would continue NATO supplies to Afghanistan through alternative cheaper routes than Pakistan. But later on, several Washington officials began issuing muffled and open threats to Islamabad regarding halting military and financial aid to Pakistan.

Triggering anger

Though the blockade of supply line was largely seen as a political gimmick led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan whose party, Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI), is heading the coalition government in the province along with right wing Jamaat-e-Islami. The blockade was expected to be of token nature and would be lifted after a few days when the sentiments of workers would be cooled down. Yet, the U.S. response of continuing it through alternative routes, either through central Asia or the newly placated Iran, infuriated the demonstrators and opposition parties who accused the government of deliberately allowing the NATO supplies through Pakistan despite the availability of alternative routes.

Their anger was also fuelled by threats of stopping U.S. aid. The response of Pakistani government also acted as catalyst to this anger. Several key ministers said blocking NATO supplies would be detrimental to the national economy already suffering due to a decade long insurgency. Others mentioned that truckers and associated industries who earned foreign exchange from NATO supplies were its direct beneficiaries and closure would hit their income hard. Some political parties like the Pakistan People’s Party and ANP accused Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami of gaining political mileage by instigating the youth against the NATO supplies.

The public blockade of NATO supplies was expected to be close, since the U.S. had been continuing drone attacks in tribal and settled areas of Pakistan despite global uproar, especially in the face of increasingly hostile feelings among Pakistanis. According to estimates from reputed international bodies, the death toll of drone attacks was well over five thousand people, and only a small proportion of them (about two per cent) were suspected militants or al-Qaeda operatives, while the rest were civilians including women and children.


Hurling accusations

Former U.S. ambassador in Islamabad, Cameron Munter, alleged that blocking NATO supplies was the work of Pakistan’s right wing Islamist parties in connivance with Army’s public relations department (ISPR). He was cited by media as saying that drone attacks were a key factor of U.S. foreign policy, and Islamists in Pakistan raised their voice against them for their political gains.

The U.S., as the sole super power of the world, must take it upon itself to share the biggest responsibility for global peace

Mansoor Jafar

Munter’s tirade against Pakistan army and Islamist parties was seen as an attempt to counter the joint resolutions of Pakistani parliament that unanimously called for halting drone attacks and quit U.S. war on terror to restore internal peace and security in the country. Munter was also cited as accusing western media and think tanks of exaggerating the civilian deaths in drone hits. He hinted that drone hits on Pakistan would decrease after U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan next year.The ISPR denied Munter’s accusations and termed it misleading and baseless.

Earlier, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Pakistan and reportedly warned that blocking NATO supplies could cause a blockade of U.S. aid to Pakistan. Although the statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Pakistan did not mention the drone attack or the stopping of U.S. aid to Pakistan, however, it reminded us that Islamabad had received more than 16 billion dollars on account of security expense since 2002 from America.

According to a U.S. Defense Department official, during his meetings with Pakistani officials including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Hagel conveyed Washington’s preparedness to stop all kinds of aid to Pakistan if NATO supplies were not restored.

The supplies also remained suspended for seven months last year after NATO choppers attacked and killed 25 Pakistani troops stationed at a post on Pakistan-Afghan border. The latest closure came as a blow to the U.S.-led NATO forces preparing to leave Afghanistan after a 12-year long war that left the U.S. reeling under financial shockwaves of spending trillions of dollars on a vaguely defined military campaign.

Frustrated forces

Many observers unanimously opine that NATO forces are frustrated after failing to eliminate the Taliban and their followers from the war-torn country after exhausting all their resources and energies. The U.S. threats of blocking aid and Hagel’s unscheduled visit showed Washington still badly needed a Pakistani route for NATO supplies.

Several U.S. think tanks are busy suggesting Washington switch over to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas for NATO supplies to Afghanistan instead of bowing down before Pakistan’s blackmail. Citing the recent pact between Iran and 5+1 in Geneva, those think tanks said U.S.’s new “friend” Tehran would be a cheaper and shorter alternative to the Pakistani route.

I believe this move will prove to be a repeat of the unwise and hasty U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and will result in another civil war and the subsequent destabilization of the whole region.

A recent report said Washington had withdrawn the authorization of drone attacks from CIA and handed it over to Defense Department which is accountable to Congress and the U.S. people, unlike the CIA. This move, if implemented, could reduce or stop the drone attacks, leading to positive effects all over Asia and Middle East.

The U.S., as the sole super power of the world, must take it upon itself to share the biggest responsibility for global peace, which called for sympathetic understanding of Islamabad’s point of view and resolving all issues through dialogue.


Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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