After keeping mum for the last nine years, the United Nations has broken its silence on the subject of killings in the Pakistani tribal areas by the US drones.
It calls these attacks a “violation” of Pakistan’s sovereignty and classifies killings a breach of human rights. One wonders where this champion of human rights violation was these past nine years.
The USA commenced drone attacks on Pakistan’s Fata territory sometime in June 2004; the data collected by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based not-for-profit news organisation composed of journalists who produce investigative reports for the press and broadcast media, has determined that till February 2013, there have been 350 strikes that have caused 3,461 casualties.
These are just estimates; however, the exact figures of the dead and wounded are not known. There is no data that can determine the number of the wounded and the cost of property destroyed.
The data about the ratio between alleged militant and innocent civilians, including women, children and the elderly, killed by these attacks is also unknown.
During all this slaughter, unfortunately, the conscience of the United Nations and the international community remained asleep.
But now that the USA’s projected withdrawal from Afghanistan is nearing its deadline, the United Nations has suddenly woken up to champion the cause of human rights.
Pakistan and Pakistani nationals have suffered the most by the killings and damage to property, yet during these past nine years Pakistani government - both civilian and military - officials or its political leadership only ritually voiced objections to these attacks. Nevertheless, there were some isolated voices that were marginalised and thus were ineffective.
Despite parliamentary resolutions and the APC’s declaration, no official protests were ever made. Our Foreign Office failed even to move the United Nations in these past nine years.
Along with the United Nations, the people in Pakistan’s establishment too have, of late, realised that that the drone attacks are a violation.
Anyway, the United Nations has broken its silence when the USA has announced its intention to withdrawal from Afghanistan and is engaged in negotiations with the Taliban.
It seems that the United Nations’ sudden realisation is on a silent nod from Uncle Sam; otherwise, these attacks and killings have been going on without any objection or observation for the last nine years. Its attitude or conduct in such matters is obvious.
We are familiar with the United Nations inability and helplessness in keeping the world peace; Palestine and Kashmir are obvious examples of its failures. Its role in the events taking place in Syria also indicates its lack of interest; it is effective only in areas where the USA and the World Jewry has a stake.
Needless to say, it is just an international forum where the poor and weak nations are given false hopes of peace and prosperity, and lulled with promises. But the United Nations’ anti-Muslim conduct does not cause as much pain as the conduct of our own leaders.
A UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, for instance, was in Pakistan to investigate the casualties caused by the US drone attacks over the years. He met our political representatives, Foreign Office officials and other senior government functionaries.
All of them, including the (ex)Prime Minister’s Advisor on Human Rights and the Chairman Senate Committee on Defence, told him that Pakistan’s government “does not consent to the drone attacks.” Indeed, it is like rubbing salt into our national wounds.
We all know this assertion is incorrect. Immediately after Pakistan was forced into an alliance for the war on terror, its political leadership and its military were closely co-opted in the planning and conduct of this war.
After General Pervez Musharraf stepped down, this cooperation continued with the PPP-led democractically elected government and the military high command. Drone strikes on suspected hideouts of alleged al-Qaeda operatives and militant Taliban in Fata area were part of this strategy.
Pakistan even provided the Shamsi Airbase from where these attacks were controlled; some even allege that these attacking drones took off from this base. This base was closed down during the stand-off after the Salala attack by the US forces in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed.
President Asif Zardari is quoted by Bob Woodward in his book, entitled “Obama’s Wars”, that he told the CIA to aggressively attack al-Qaeda leaders in his country. “Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me,” was the assurance he gave to the CIA. With this available knowledge, the denial of consent to carry out drone strike is an insult to our national integrity.
The question, however, is: why had the PPP-led democratically elected government taken this stance one day prior to its stepping down?
Whatever the reason, it cannot absolve itself from the responsibility of protecting the lives and property of those who voted it into office; those who ran the affairs of the state have now to account for their failures. This belated declaration that their consent was missing sounds hollow and untenable.
Further, if one recalls that the former Chief of Air Staff had publicly stated that the Pakistan Air Force had the capability to intercept and destroy the drones provided the government ordered it to do so. But the government of Pakistan never tasked it for this. This too implies that there was tacit approval and consent for the drone attacks that killed innocent Pakistani nationals.
So those who are enjoying farewell parties and making speeches to highlight their “achievements” of the last five years are slated to face the people of Pakistan to seek fresh mandate for another term. They should know that the people are going to ask some very serious and painful questions.
The Fata voters will definitely question about what these representatives did to stop the killings and lessen their miseries. Like many others, this scribe is also sure that the outgoing politicians will have no satisfactory answer.
Add to this, if these attacks were without consent, it was an act of war and those in the government failed to protect the lives of the citizens as well as national sovereignty.
As a final word, the United Nations does not figure in the national picture; its policies do not impact us directly; whether it wakes up or remains asleep affects us little. However, the conduct of our political leadership directly affects our national integrity, sovereignty and status in the world. Belated denials do not change realities.
The writer is a retired brigadier. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org