The truth about drone attacks, training of FC by the Americans, the arrest Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Quetta Shura, the Kerry-Lugar bill and many other issues have been hidden from the public which in turn whips up anti-American sentiments. – File photo
OBTAINING the truth from governments is not unlike yanking out healthy teeth firmly attached to the jaw: both cause acute pain and resistance.
Take the recent judgment in Britain that forced the government to reveal details of the torture that Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident, went through following his arrest in Pakistan after 9/11. Held in American custody in a number of countries for seven years, he ended up in Guantanamo from where he was finally released last year without being charged.
The British government argued that revealing such sensitive information might endanger the intelligence-sharing arrangement it has with the United States. However, for once their lordships were not having any of this routine foot-dragging, and ordered the release of the information.
In Pakistan, the state routinely classifies the most mundane documents as ‘secret’, and insists on keeping the public in the dark. Loftily, government functionaries inform us that while we must foot the bill, we are not grown up enough to know the truth. More often than not, these clandestine policies blow up in our face, and ordinary Pakistanis are left paying the cost in money and in lives.
For years, the Pakistani establishment has played a double game in Afghanistan, and when the Taliban genie escaped from the bottle and began slaughtering innocent Pakistanis, we blamed everybody but our own army and intelligence services. Every country has secrets, but we have raised the art of denial to new levels of dissimulation.
Take the American policy of taking out their Taliban and Al Qaeda foes in Pakistan by using highly advanced drone technology. This has been going on for the last several years with the clandestine knowledge and approval of both the Musharraf and Zardari governments. And yet, every time a drone launches a missile that kills militants (and civilians, unfortunately), there is a hue and cry in Pakistan. The government lodges a complaint with the US, and the media goes into a frenzy of American-bashing.
Nobody is willing to face the fact that more often than not, these drones are launched from a base located within Pakistan. This was publicly declared by an American senator who is a member of the Senate intelligence committee. No Pakistani official contradicted her, and yet everybody from Zardari downwards keeps protesting every time a drone attack takes place.
Similarly, we have American Special Forces training units of the Frontier Corps in counter-insurgency tactics, but the public remains largely unaware of this programme. It was only when three American soldiers were killed in Fata that the media reported their presence.
Recently, when Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban, was captured in Karachi, the interior minister referred to the report as ‘propaganda’. The question of how long our government was aware of Baradar’s presence has gone unanswered as we denied that the Quetta shura even existed on our soil.
These lies and contradictions have served to confuse the Pakistani public, and to whip up anti-American sentiment. After 9/11, Musharraf did a public U-turn and denounced the Taliban, offering the Americans help in toppling them. Much of the framework for covert joint operations was laid down in those early days, but fearing a backlash from his clerical allies in the coalition that supported him, Musharraf chose to keep most of this military and intelligence cooperation secret.
Under the army’s pressure, Zardari has chosen to continue with Musharraf’s policy of secrecy and prevarication. By insisting that Pakistan plays no part in the drone campaign, for instance, the government seeks to deflect criticism for any civilian casualties to the Americans. This is both shameless and irresponsible. The reality is that the death-by-drones of so many militants in the tribal areas is something that is to our advantage.
By not owning up to a policy in which we are both partners and beneficiaries, we have made it clear that we are unable or unwilling to exercise control over our soil. Indeed, by playing victim instead of a state defending its own people against terrorists, we send out a signal of weakness.
How would we be any worse off by adopting a more open posture? The received wisdom in both Washington and Islamabad is that somehow, public knowledge of Pakistan’s complicity in the drone campaign would destabilise the civilian government. While this may be true today, it surely was not so under Musharraf when the army was very much onside, as it is today.
The reality is that both Musharraf and Zardari have been heavily criticised by the Islamic parties and politicians for their pro-American policies. How would anything change if Zardari were to take the public into confidence? Such a policy of openness would enable the government to proceed without having to go into contortions each time a drone attack is launched.
Currently, the public perception is that the Americans are acting unilaterally, and ignoring Pakistan’s sovereignty. Understandably, this whips up anger each time a Predator or Reaper missile kills militants, as well as the women and children they were hiding behind.
We have seen this anti-Americanism flourish in our media over the years. At the time of the debate (or what passed for one) over the Kerry-Lugar bill, many TV anchors and guests on Urdu channels joined the army-led chorus against this legislation. In a barely literate society where the electronic media plays a key role in forming perceptions, our Urdu TV channels have much to answer for.
By refusing to acknowledge the degree of cooperation between the US and Pakistani army and intelligence agencies, we end up only confusing our people as well as looking incompetent and hypocritical in the eyes of the world. The drone campaign is a solid success by any yardstick. In fact, apart from our army operations in Swat and South Waziristan, it is the only military riposte to have kept the militants on the run. Surely, we should take part of the credit for locating many of the targets.
We need to know who our friends and foes are. And anybody condoning the actions of the terrorists who have killed thousands of innocent Pakistanis is not our friend.