By Irfan Husain
December 14, 2013
HAVING heard all possible points of view about American drones, I thought I would introduce readers to a new voice in the debate: Mohammed Hassan.
This is not his real name, and nor does he want his profession or his operational area to be identified. This desire for anonymity is entirely understandable when one considers his role, reportedly, as a CIA agent tasked with identifying targets in the tribal areas for drone attacks.
Hundreds of people have been killed, often after undergoing gruesome torture, on the charge of helping the Americans. The merest suspicion can lead to execution. So when Hassan asked Hasnain Kazim, the correspondent for Der Spiegel, the German daily, to conceal his identity, we can see why.
What really shocked me was that Hassan was being paid a paltry $200 a month for risking his life every day. One would have thought that with its vast budget, the CIA could afford to be a little more generous with its field operatives. But clearly, locals can be short-changed without any fuss: after all, who is Hassan going to complain to?
In the interview with Der Spiegel, Hassan opposed the long-proposed talks with the Taliban: “What can you talk about with these people? About their share in power?” According to him, they want an Islamic state with no roads, no schools, no music, no art and no enjoyment of life. “Nothing but pray, pray, pray. It has nothing to do with modern Islam.”
When asked how he could justify helping the US launch drone attacks that killed his countrymen, Hassan replied:
“We are at war, and I am part of this war. When does a war make sense? To be honest, I think the US drone missions are the right thing to do. Believe me, no weapon is more effective in fighting extremists. Hakeemullah Mehsud, the head of the Taliban for many years, was killed on Nov 1 … From a military standpoint; it’s a success for the United States. And I contribute to that success.”
In response to a question about Pakistan’s sovereignty being violated, Hassan replied: “What sovereignty? The nation of Pakistan has had no control over the tribal region for decades … Pakistani law doesn’t apply in the tribal regions, neither the Constitution nor any other law…”
And responding to a question about the vexed issue of high civilian casualties in the drone campaign, Hassan said: “That’s nonsense. Pure propaganda… It seems to me that these [Bureau of Investigative Journalism] figures are made up of thin air. Most of the estimates are based on Pakistani newspaper articles, which in turn are based on information from people in the tribal regions that cannot be verified.
“From my own experience on the ground, I can say that yes, there are civilian casualties, and unfortunately they include women and children. I have no concrete figures… [but] most of the victims are enemies of the United States and enemies of Pakistan.”
Finally, asked why he had agreed to talk to the media, Hassan replied: “Because I feel the need to talk. Sometimes I have the feeling I am going crazy. There is more support for drone attacks in the tribal areas than people out there in the world think. But no one dares to speak up. Everyone is afraid. Anyone who says a good word about the drones is finished. No one knows who is on which side…
“Perhaps it’s true that a majority oppose the drone war. But the mood certainly isn’t that clear-cut. We want to live in peace, and that’s only possible without these backward extremists.”
After reading this interview, I was more convinced than ever that the thugs who have blockaded Nato supplies in Peshawar, as well as the TV studio talking heads who oppose drones, should be asked to spend a few weeks in the tribal areas.
There, they could share the joys of hosting jihadis who often take over houses and use women and children as human shields.
The reality is that these killers have made life a living hell for hundreds of thousands of people in Fata. They have gone around blowing up schools, collecting protection money from petty traders and transporters, and preventing children (especially girls) from getting an education.
Neither the state nor the tribal chiefs offer these victims of Taliban tyranny any security or help. Instead of taking action, successive governments have spoken weasel words about negotiations, sovereignty and national dignity. All this while extremists of all stripes and several nationalities have tightened their grip on large swathes of the country.
Quite apart from the personal tragedy of those whose lives have been shattered by the Taliban, there is the larger national cost being inflicted by the anti-drone protesters.
When Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, recently referred to the linkage between the release of Coalition Support Funds and the flow of NATO supplies, he wasn’t just issuing empty threats.
Our finance minister, Ishaq Dar, responded by asserting that he would recover the outstanding CSF tranche of close to a billion dollars “within two and four weeks”.
This is the same man who, days earlier, had announced that he would bring the rupee-dollar exchange rate down to below Rs100 to the dollar. I wasn’t aware that he has Harry Potter’s magic wand tucked away in his pocket.
The truth is that Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves are dangerously near zero. We desperately need the release of the funds due from Washington, but after halting Nato supplies, we have very little further leverage. Close-minded politicians like Imran Khan ignore the fact that words and actions have consequences in the real world.
While he swaggers about and utters brash threats, the world wonders who’s in charge of foreign affairs: him or Nawaz Sharif? A beggar who hopes to get a handout would do well not to threaten his benefactor.