Who called in the drones?

Theories about Pakistan requesting US air strikes on its own territory may be true

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Published: November 11, 2017 12:15 am
Drone attacks, Pakistan drone attacks, Afghanistan drone attacks, Pakistan Taliban, US air strikes, Osama bin Laden, Indian Express American drone attacks on the Pak-Afghan border are on the rise again. (File Photo)

American drone attacks on the Pak-Afghan border are on the rise again. Since October, counted together with ground attacks, 70 strikes were reported inside Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. In the last week of October, 30 people were killed. Pakistan doesn’t like these attacks when they trespass on its territory and cause collateral damage. Despite that, it is difficult to ignore that they get rid of some of the most dreaded killers of Pakistani citizens inside Pakistan. At times, people are compelled to conjecture that Pakistan actually “requests” the strikes.

In October, Omar Khalid Khorasani, chief of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban, was probably killed by a drone inside Afghanistan. News of his surviving the attack, though, ran parallel to the news of his death. Khorasani was the mastermind of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014 that killed 144 students and staff members belonging to families connected to the army. The savagery of the Peshawar attack had sent Pakistan into a collective trauma which was hardly assuaged by the hanging of the men who had facilitated it. But once in Afghanistan, Khorasani was out of Pakistan’s reach.

Qari Saifullah Akhtar, reported killed along with Khorasani, was named by Benazir Bhutto as one of the suspects in the plot she feared was set to assassinate her. As the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, suspected of being involved in her killing, he was released in early December 2010 and has finally been “droned”. He was closely linked to Ilyas Kashmiri, the pampered Kashmir jihadi who joined al Qaeda, and carried out the most dreadful attack on the Karachi naval base in May 2011. Kashmiri too was killed by an American drone in June 2011.

Chief of Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, who engineered the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, was killed by a drone in August 2009. (In 2017, Pakistan actually acquitted the group of men he had enlisted for the purpose). The most wanted terrorist chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, became the next victim of the American drones, despite Pakistan’s protests, in November 2013, after he had captured and personally executed two ex-ISI officers, Khalid Khwaja and Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar.

It is amazing how the Americans have been steadily killing chiefs of the Pakistani Taliban with their drone attacks instead of the Pakistan army which should have done the job through ground operations. Nek Muhammad was the first chief to be droned in 2004, some say on request from the Pakistan army. Brigadier (retired) Shaukat Qadir, an outspoken ex-chief of an Islamabad think-tank, dropped a bombshell in 2013 by telling The Friday Times (July 19, 2013) that army chiefs were too scared of a Taliban backlash to admit that they were asking America for the drone attacks.

The man Pakistan should have killed was the arch-terrorist, Osama bin Laden, who was living with his wives in a big house in Abbottabad near the place where the Pakistani army officers are trained. He was finally killed by American commandos in 2011. Qadir revealed: General Ashfaq Kayani was scared of the national al Qaeda-driven Urdu narrative and decided to hide the truth, just as he had in the case of the drones. “Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad was tracked by the army, but ironically it was not in a position to claim the credit.” Oddly, when the Americans killed him, General Kayani got on the right side of the terrorists by denouncing America while America responded with a soft touch by “absolving” General Kayani of not knowing about bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Taking on Islamic warriors, whom it considered soldiers of God — but who thrive on killing Pakistanis — was a predicament for Pakistan. The army thought of parleying with them but couldn’t manage a position of strength from where to start. It feared a backlash in the hinterland because of the outreach of Taliban’s Islamic proselytisation from South Punjab to Karachi. The terrorists it faced were considered by many to be purveyors of an ideology superior to the one expressed in Pakistan’s constitution. This was persuasively explained by al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in The Morning and the Lamp — translated from Arabic into Urdu by the madrasas of Pakistan in silent protest within the constitutionally established Council of Islamic Ideology.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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