While the world’s eyes are transfixed on the unsettling developments taking place in the Middle East, the United States’ anti-terrorism campaign hit another difficult obstacle on the Pakistani front.
Pakistani officials have recently “privately demanded” that the US military end its highly effective and deadly drone campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists based in Pakistan’s rugged border areas, where the government’s writ barely extends. Besides blunting the best weapon for confronting the al Qaeda threat and crippling America’s anti-terrorist strategy, the Pakistani demand, if acted on by the U.S., would grant al Qaeda more operating room to carry out attacks worldwide. Extremely troubling is that the Pakistani government’s desire to shelve the drone shows how alarmingly weak it has become vis-à-vis the extremist threat.
There are several possible reasons for the Pakistani government wanting the drone to disappear from Pakistani air space. Tensions have been increasing between the United States and Pakistan regarding the drone campaign. Pakistani officials are worried about the government’s standing with the people in regards to the civilian casualties the unmanned aerial weapon have caused. Pakistanis, imbued with anti-Americanism, also vehemently resent the drones, regarding their presence in Pakistani skies as an infringement of their country’s sovereignty.
Connected to the two countries’ deteriorating counter-terrorism relationship, the Pakistani government is also concerned that American intelligence agents in Pakistan are “working without Islamabad’s full knowledge.” The case of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who killed “two armed Pakistani men” and was jailed, causing a diplomatic incident, has worsened this situation. Davis was freed last month after agreeing to pay compensation, or blood money, to the families of the deceased.
But probably the main reason behind the Pakistani leadership’s demand to cancel the drone, according to the military news publication Strategy Page, is fear for its own personal safety (translation: a surrender to Islamists). Strategy Page reports the Pakistani government has succumbed to the Taliban’s threat that it would kill senior civilian and military leaders if the drone campaign was not stopped. In the past, the Taliban has assassinated politicians as important as Benazir Bhutto, wife of Pakistan’s current president, while she herself was campaigning for the presidential office.
This death threat, combined with the overall Islamist power within the country, is most likely the main reason why the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, has reduced its co-operation with the CIA the past four months — which has led to a withdrawal of dozens of intelligence operatives from Pakistan and a reduction in the number of drone attacks on terrorist leaders.
“The ISI believes this pro-Taliban policy will protect their leaders from terror attacks,” Strategy Page stated.
The Taliban and al Qaeda view their assassination strategy as the only countermeasure capable of stopping the CIA’s highly successful “decapitation” campaign, in which drones have been targeting high-level terrorist operatives hiding in Pakistan. Since 2008, when the drone campaign started, an estimated 700 al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists have been killed by the drone’s Hellfire missile. Particularly painful for al Qaeda and its allies is the fact that about two dozen top leaders and 100 mid-level ones are among the dead. The loss of the mid-level cadres apparently hurt the two terrorist organisations the most, since these are highly experienced field commanders who translate their leaders’ military strategy into reality.
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