UN condemns US drone attacks on Pakistan
Supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan were blocked in protests over drone strikes blocked a key road in Pakistan for three days. The protests was called by Tehrik-e- Insaf, the party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, over continued US drone strikes in the north-west. Thousands of lorries were held up by the rally, including 500 supplying Nato troops in northern Afghanistan.
More than 3,000 trucks carrying supplies from the Pakistani port of Karachi to the Afghan capital, Kabul, pass the northern route each day. Nato and other supplies to Afghanistan have often suffered disruptions because of militant attacks. But this is the first time that political protests have caused a blockade, the BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says.
US drone attacks have escalated in the region since President Barack Obama took office. More than 100 raids were reported last year. The strikes are are hugely unpopular with the Pakistani public. Many militants, some of them senior, have been killed in the raids, but hundreds of civilians have also died.
Correspondents say they have the tacit approval of the authorities, although Pakistani leaders deny secretly supporting them.
The US does not routinely confirm it conducts drone operations in Pakistan. But analysts say only American forces have the capacity to deploy such aircraft.
The year of the drone-2010
During last 4 years of Musharaf rule, there were 9 US Drone attacks killing 112 people, up to this 4th years of PPP/Zardari rule there has been 223 US Drone attacks in Pakistan, killing 2129 people. [Irfan Siddiqui, http://ejang.jang.com.pk/3-20-2011/Karachi/pic.asp?picname=07_07.gif ]. It is generally estimated that 99% killed were innocent civilian tribesmen.
The United Nations have condemned US drone attacks in Pakistan warning they create "playstation mentality" towards killing.
Zubeida Malik reports on the use of drone attack and UN's Philip Alston explains why he thinks the attacks are so worrying.
US fuel tanker under attack - Analysis
These attacks are taking place at a time of heightened tension.
Public anger here has been very strong since last week's Nato air-strike in which three Pakistani soldiers were killed.
Pakistan is determined to register its protest and closing the Khyber Pass is a very effective way of putting the squeeze on Nato because the alliance relies on the Khyber Pass.
It is a key lifeline for supplies going into Afghanistan. Up to 80% of Nato's non-lethal supplies are going through Pakistan so while the pass remains closed it is a critical situation for Nato forces.
When drones kill innocent bystanders it infuriates the Taliban — on both sides of the border — who use this campaign to recruit additional foot soldiers and suicide bombers. In April 2009 warnings by US military and intelligence officials as reported by the McClatchy News Service echoed what certain dissenting CIA operatives had said about drone strikes that they do more harm than good.
McClatchy quoted an intelligence official saying that Al Qaeda and the Taliban were using these strikes as a catalyst for the jihadi movement in Pakistan to show ‘Americans as cowards who are afraid to face their enemies and risk death.’ Certain military officials involved in counterterrorism operations have also said that drone strikes are a ‘recruiting windfall for the Pakistani Taliban.’
That is also journalist Zahid Hussain’s argument in his second book The Scorpion’s Tale which charts the aftereffects of the ongoing drone campaign and the strategic costs that have far exceeded tactical gains. It questions whether such strikes that have successfully taken out certain mid-to-high value militant targets can point to a winner in the fight against insurgency.
The US drone programme, originally authorised by former US president George Bush against a smaller list of Al Qaeda’s most-wanted high-level militants began with a limited mandate but in early 2008 all previous restraints were removed.
Precise ground intelligence was required in the scenario of a strike, which could not be approved unless the target was identified accurately, and a complete assessment of collateral damage had to ensure against significant civilian casualties.
David Sanger writes in The Inheritance (2009) how Bush authorised strikes against targets merely based on visual evidence of a ‘typical’ Al Qaeda motorcade or a group entering a house with links to Al Qaeda or its Pakistani Taliban allies.
There are obvious moral and legal issues with drone strikes but Hussain’s observation is focused on whether this powerful tool has deterred young, disaffected youth from joining militant groups.
Scorpion’s Tale charts how Faisal Shahzad, the failed-would-be-terrorist cultivated contacts with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and why when questioned by a New York judge said he was avenging the many drone strike deaths.
The author recounts the tenuous relationship between the US and Pakistan, not only because of Shahzad’s failed Times Square attack but because ‘the bombing attempt has convinced the Americans that the targeted killing of militants by the drone strikes was insufficient to stem the tide of the insurgency.’
He writes how drone warfare has collectively massed the Pakistani Taliban and other local militant groups under the Al Qaeda network into closer collaboration, creating an army of militants who share manpower, recruitment techniques and services and financial resources, and cannot be defeated by the Pakistani establishment any time soon. Hussain claims that the drone attacks have also ‘inspired a flood of new recruits.’
Figures for this year show that September has so far been recorded as the busiest month for drone operators with the number of attacks exceeding those in the first five years of implementing this strategy in 2004. However, with the recent estimate by the American CIA that currently there are about 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and another 300 or so across the border, most should (or could) have been targeted since 2004.
A recent study by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann at the New America Foundation shows that the 203 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the present — including 107 in 2010 — have killed approximately 1,286 to 1,981 individuals, of whom around 975 to 1,446 were described as militants in media accounts. Thus the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to this analysis is approximately 25 per cent. In 2010, it is nearer to six percent. These figures negate the high civilian fatality ratio.
Much like Husssain’s earlier book, Frontline Pakistan (2007), this timely narrative has information collated after recorded interviews and investigation, and it serves as a precursor to the December review of the Afghan war strategy. What then becomes relevant in regards to this review is whether the counterinsurgency strategy at work in Afghanistan has proven successful as touted repeatedly by key US commanders on the ground or is in fact weak and ineffectual.
There are no new revelations in Scorpion’s Tale which is a drawback if you’re looking for exclusivity, but its invaluable documentation and collation of events provide insight into the power politics at play in Pakistan, which aids and abets the rise of extremism. Hussain’s narrative will especially be of interest to readers who are new to this region as it explains why the war in Afghanistan has cross-border references that threaten US interests globally and also Pakistan’s internal fractured security.
When the Soviets withdrew in 1989 the Mujahideen fighting in Afghanistan nurtured by CIA money and ISI patronage looked to Kashmir as the new battleground. Hussain notes that Kashmir did not suddenly become a focus of Islamic extremism in the late 1980s, but had nurtured radicalisation since 1947. He argues that because of Islam’s pivotal inclusion in the affairs of the state, the use of religion for playing politics became an effective tool readily available to successive civilian and military leaders, who rather than working to counter its influence, manipulate it for their own survival.
Scorpion’s Tale questions why the use of military power hasn’t stopped the flow of militant recruits and why radical ideologies triumph. If there are a greater number of young men desirous to fight, undeterred by the kill-or-capture approach, is the campaign against terrorism being won or lost?
This book is a compelling reminder of the challenges faced by both the Pakistani government and the US-led forces in Afghanistan in finding a non-military solution to curbing extremism. It should make those who are in the corridors of power wonder whether the answer lies in greater combat, or instead in negotiating with the Taliban and countering the radical ideologies of terror groups by providing opportunities for education, employment and better living conditions to the people living in the region.
ISBN 978-1-4516-2721-3 ,245pp.
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