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Islamic World News ( 18 May 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Moaning About Drones

By Khaled Ahmed

18 May, 2012

The parliamentary vote against the drones is protective of the elements that kill Pakistanis but serve as a policy-tool against the US in Afghanistan

Pakistan's parliament has made the suspension of drone attacks by the US a precondition to a 're-set' of Pak-US relations. Add to that a formal apology by President Obama and you have the formula of a bilateral breakdown. Pakistan's insistence on an apology is a dubious oriental-jihadi gimmick ensuring victory against a superpower while the victor's economy is belly up and Al Qaeda is winning all the battles with the help of its proliferating minions inside Pakistan. On the drones issue however Pakistan's real intent is not so clear.

The force behind the drone protest is Pak Army whose chief wants a break from the Musharraf phase to get into the good books of the elements that carry Pakistan's war into Afghanistan and give the GHQ its trump card in the Afghan endgame. It also serves as a persuader to the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists not to kill Pakistani troops and Pakistani people. Those who get targeted by the drones are mostly the terrorists with little or no collateral damage: Taliban, Punjabi Taliban, Haqqani Group, Al Qaeda Arabs and (if and when Pak Army wants) the warlords of Khyber and other tribal agencies. Hence the parliamentary vote against the drones is protective of the elements that kill Pakistanis but serve as Pakistan policy-tool against the US in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's insistence on an apology is a dubious oriental-jihadi gimmick ensuring victory against a superpower while the victor's economy is belly up and Al Qaeda is winning all the battles

Pakistani military officers have not always spoken with one voice on the subject of drones. Military commanders serving in North and South Waziristan have actually been reported in the Pakistani media as approving of the drone attacks while decrying the collateral damage which has never been big enough to worry them too much. Major General Ghayyur Mehmud, GOC 7th Div North Waziristan, told the journalists that 'a majority of those killed by drone strikes are hardcore Taliban or Al Qaeda elements, especially foreigners, while civilian casualties are few; and that by scaring local populations and compelling displacement through migration, drone attacks create social and political blowbacks for law enforcement agencies'.

Quoted in Mashriq (22 April 2012) General Khalid Rabbani of 11 corps on the Afghan-Pakistan border stated that 'a victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan will be dangerous for Pakistan because it will strengthen the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan and inflict more terrorism on Pakistani people. He also said that if the drones did not involve civilian casualties they could be of help in putting an end to terrorism'. In 2008, when the attacks picked up, the drones killed 286 terrorists - specifically al Qaeda Arabs - while killing 31 non-terrorists. In 2009, there were 463 killed with 43 as collateral damage. In 2010, the ratio was 801:14; in 2011, 408:30; and in 2012, 97:00.

Pakistani military officers have not always spoken with one voice on the subject of drones

Why then get the parliament to list drones as the top conditionality, together with an apology, on the rostrum of directives when negotiating Pakistan's relations with the US? The following reasons could be at the root of Pak Army's position on the drones: 1) General Kayani has decided to change his predecessor General Musharraf's policy of ambivalence which is no longer tenable; 2) He could be reacting to the accuracy of drones in killing the 'good' Taliban attacking across the Durand Line; 3) He could be reacting to the 'bad' Taliban's announced strategy of attacking Pakistanis to get Pak Army to stop the US policy of drones; 4) He could be alarmed at the TV-watching rank and file in the cantonments and be using the policy of opposing drones to prevent a revolt; and 5) He could equally be using this policy to appease Al Qaeda whose cadres are most vulnerable to drone attacks.

Over the past six years, the drone strikes have focused on two regions: North and South Waziristan. Over the past two years, there has been a dramatic shift in the location of the strikes. In 2009, 42 percent of the strikes have taken place in North Waziristan and 51 percent in South Waziristan. In 2010, 89 percent of the strikes have taken place in North Waziristan and 6 percent in South Waziristan. Of the 292 strikes since 2004, 69 percent have hit targets in North Waziristan, and 26 percent have hit targets in South Waziristan.

Targeted terrorists Mullah Nazir and Waliur Rehman are based in South Waziristan; the Haqqanis, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and Abu Kasha al Iraqi are based in North Waziristan; Hakimullah Mehsud has a base in Orakzai while hiding in North Waziristan; and Faqir Mohammed is based in Bajaur. Two bases operated by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar were hit in South Waziristan. Pak Army considers Nazir, the Haqqanis, Bahadur, and Hekmatyar to be 'good Taliban' as they do not carry out attacks against the Pakistani state. All of these Taliban factions shelter Al Qaeda and various other terror groups including those who kill Pakistanis too.

It is remarkable how the drones have succeeded in picking out the Al Qaeda Arabs over the years including some Pakistanis linked to Al Qaeda like Ilyas Kashmiri known for killing Pakistanis. June 18, 2004: Nek Muhammad Wazir was killed in a strike near Wana, South Waziristan. May 14, 2005: Haitham al-Yemeni killed in a strike near the Afghan border in North Waziristan. November 30, 2005: Al Qaeda number 3 Abu Hamza Rabia killed in Asoray, near Miranshah. January 13, 2006: Damadola airstrike killed 18 in Bajaur but missed Ayman al-Zawahiri. January 29, 2008: Abu Laith al-Libi was killed in a strike in North Waziristan.

May 14, 2008: 12 including Abu Sulayman Al-Jazairi killed near village of Damadola, Bajaur. July 28, 2008: Midhat Mursi and 5 other Al Qaeda operatives killed in South Waziristan. August 30, 2008: Missile strike on Al Qaeda training camp in South Waziristan killed two militants carrying Canadian passports. October 16, 2008: Senior Al Qaeda leader Khalid Habib killed in a strike near Taparghai, South Waziristan, along with five other Al Qaeda or Taliban members. October 31, 2008: 20 killed including Al-Qaeda operative Abu Akash and Mohammad Hasan Khalil al-Hakim (alias Abu Jihad al-Masri) after 4 missiles hit Waziristan. November 19, 2008: Abdullah Azzam al-Saudi killed in Bannu district.

November 22, 2008: British Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf and 4 others including Abu Zubair al-Masri killed in a strike in North Waziristan. January 1, 2009: two senior al-Qaeda leaders Usama al-Kini and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan were killed. August 5, 2009: strike in South Waziristan killed 12, including Baitullah Mehsud, his wife, and his wife's parents. August 27, 2009: missile strike on the Tapar Ghai area in the Kanigram (Kanigoram) district in South Waziristan kills at 8 people. One of the dead was reportedly Tahir Yuldashev (Tahir Yuldash), leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. September 8, 2009: drone fired missiles kill 10 in North Waziristan. The attack may have killed al Qaeda leaders Ilyas Kashmiri and Mustafa al Jaziri as well as three Punjabi militants and two or three local Taliban fighters.

October 21, 2009: Alleged US drone missile killed two or three alleged militants in Spalaga, North Waziristan in territory controlled by Hafiz Gul Bahadur. One of those killed was reportedly Abu Ayyub al-Masri (not the same as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader), an explosives expert for Al Qaeda and a "Tier 1" target of US counterterrorism operations.

October 24, 2009: Alleged US drone strike killed 27, in Damadola, inside Bajaur tribal agency. The 27 victims were reportedly a mix of Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives engaged in a planning and strategy meeting. The dead included 11 'foreigners'. One of those reported killed was Faqir Mohammed's nephew, Zahid and another was Mohammed's unnamed son-in-law. The meeting was apparently being held to decide on whether to reinforce South Waziristan against Pakistani forces, which Faqir Mohammed advocates, or exploit recent successes in the Nuristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan, which Al Qaeda wishes to do.

December 8, 2009: 3 killed in a car near Miranshah in North Waziristan, reportedly including 2 Al Qaeda members. Senior Al Qaeda planner Saleh al-Somali, from Somalia, is believed killed in this strike. In January 2010, al Qaeda in Pakistan announced that Lashkar al-Zil leader Abdullah Said al Libi was killed in a drone missile strike. Neither al Qaeda nor the US has revealed the date of the attack which killed Libi, but it appears to have taken place in December 2009.

January 8, 2010: Missile strike in Tappi village in North Waziristan killed 5 people. It is alleged that all the militants killed were local and were attached to Taliban Commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur. January 9, 2010: 4 killed and three injured when 2 missiles were fired on a compound in village Ismail Khan in North Waziristan, territory of the Haqqani network. Mahmoud Mahdi Zeidan, bodyguard for al Qaeda leader Sayeed al-Masri, was reported killed in either the January 8 or 9 airstrike. Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim who was allegedly involved in hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in 1986 was also reported killed in this strike.

Between November 2008 and January 2009 Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA), a think tank of researchers and activists from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa conducted a survey of the public opinion about the drone strikes in tribal Areas. Five teams of 5 researchers each interviewed 550 people from all walks of life. Based on the responses the researchers concluded: Most people thought that the drone attacks were accurate and did not lead to anti-American sentiment and were effective in damaging the militants. In addition the locals wanted the Pakistani forces to also target the militants.

Starting 2009, Pak Army became abrasive on the issue of the drones. Relations with the US deteriorated till in 2011, after the Raymond Davis incident, Pak Army began suspecting the US of intending to strike at its nuclear weapons - or at least that was said on the media. From the US side, more and revelations were made about Pak Army's involvement through the ISI in the killing of Americans in Afghanistan. After June 2011, the relations nose-dived after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and hit bottom in November 2011 when the Salala incident took place. Now the US says it will go on using drones despite Pakistani protest. This means that Pakistan's nonstate actors may find it almost impossible to win against the Afghan National Army with 150,000 under arms after the exit of the US/Nato troops in 2014.