Wednesday, September 30, 2009
A terrible notion has been put forward by a British newspaper. It suggests officials in Washington may be planning drone strikes on Quetta – to target key militants who they believe are based there. The story suggests this idea was discussed with the Pakistani team that has been visiting the US. It has been met at home with shock. The spectre of aerial strikes over a major city is simply unthinkable. Perhaps this is a result of Islamabad’s failure to oppose the Predator strikes in our tribal areas. It is a well-established fact, for all the official denials, that the flights that have brought death to some militants – but also many innocent people – where tacitly backed by successive governments. According to reports in the western media, there was an agreement to make a lot of noise but do nothing in more concrete terms to stop the unmanned aircraft. It is this that seems to have led to the new and still more audacious proposal to take out targets in a heavily populated area.
Our interior minister has denied the presence of Afghan Taliban leadership, including Mullah Omar, in Quetta. The problem is that the government has little credibility. We must also ask what it has done itself to track down key militant figures who many believe remain in Pakistan. Had our own security forces apprehended some of them, the case for drone attacks might have been considerably weakened. Pakistan’s request that they be carried out as joint operations is in fact an acknowledgement that they have been successful. The strike that killed Baitullah Mehsud is a prime example of this. But the expanded use of drones presents an enormous risk to all of us. Some intelligence insiders say the Taliban have been deliberately moving leaders to cities to try and keep them safe. By doing so they put all of us at greater risk. The US must be told there can be no drone strikes over heavily populated areas. Pakistan must voice the strongest opposition to this and dissuade Washington from finalizing a strategy for which the people of the country would never forgive it and indeed their own government.