LAHORE - The timing of the latest drone attack in the North Waziristan Agency could not be more embarrassing for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It has come just a week after his long-awaited talks with President Obama - and during his official visit to Britain, where the British leaders assured him once again that “Pakistan’s enemy is our enemy”.
The attack is also a challenge to the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf, which has repeatedly threatened to block NATO supplies in case the attacks did not come to an end. Now the PTI leadership will have to take practical measures to let the world community know that it can’t tolerate the attacks any more. Being governing party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it is in a better position to carry out the threat.
At his meeting with the US president, Mr Sharif had demanded that drone attacks should be stopped as they amount to violating Pakistan’s sovereignty. Also, he said the drones kill innocent people and are counterproductive.
The official delegation was fully satisfied with the outcome of the visit and had called it a spectacular victory.
The prime minister’s spokesman had claimed that all objectives had been achieved.
The adviser on foreign affairs and national security, who accompanied the prime minister, was optimistic that the attacks would ‘taper off’.
However, the US appears to be determined to use the drones, no matter who and how many are killed, to keep the government under constant pressure and force it to play a favourable role while US troops pull out of Afghanistan.
But, perhaps, the bigger embarrassment has been caused by worthy Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who told the Senate on Wednesday that only 67 innocent civilians were killed in 317 drone strikes in the past five years. According to him, more than 2,160 suspected terrorists perished in these attacks.
(The figures were provided by the defence ministry of Pakistan, not Pentagon).
The opposition parties disputed the authenticity of the figures given by the leader from “Chakri”, as PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira used to call Chaudhry Nisar because of the name of his native town. (Those knowing the Urdu or Punjabi meaning of the word can understand better what the former information minister really means).
The arrogance of the interior minister while answering questions in the house further provoked the opposition lawmakers and they staged a walkout, although Chaudhry Nisar gave little importance to the protest.
If the interior minister’s figures are to be believed, then the drone attacks have been reasonably precise as they hit mainly the “suspected terrorists” who were a headache for the government. The loss of only 67 innocent civilians, compared to 2,167 terrorists, is not much in view of the situation in which the strikes were carried out.
But will any sane person believe the “official truth”. Not at all.
What the interior minister said is much less than even what the Amnesty International said in a report launched at the outset of Mr Sharif’s US visit.
The Amnesty International came up with a detailed field research on nine of 45 reported drone strikes that occurred between January 2012 and August 2013 in North Waziristan region—and found that the US might be responsible for up to 900 civilian deaths.
Quoting some Pakistan government and NGO sources, the report said the US launched some 330 to 374 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and September 2013,” which resulted in estimates of between “400 and 900 civilians having been killed in these attacks and at least 600 people seriously injured.
The AI described the attacks as a war crime, a position which Pakistan leadership can dare endorse.
In this situation the interior minister owes some explanations. He should let the nation know if there is any mechanism in place to determine how many people are killed in any drone attack?
Why the figures of killings always come from Western news agencies, and not any Pakistani source?
How is it determined whether those killed are militants or innocent people? Does the government have any idea how many militants or terrorists are there in tribal areas? If the government has no answers to these questions, whatever the interior minister said in the Senate can be easily dismissed as a pack of lies.
Will the government provide similar kind of authentic information to applicants when the Access to Information Law comes into force?