The UNGA resolution against the drones is a positive move. For the initiation and the passage of the resolution, Pakistan worked hard undoubtedly, as did Ben Emerson, the indefatigable UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights. And indeed PTI’s contribution in both making the government proactive on the issue and creating a global consciousness must also be acknowledged. The resolution, which is non-binding unless the UNSC endorses it, must be only read as a moral victory. Hence the resolution will not force immediate change in US policy on the use of drones in Pakistan.
Meanwhile more important for us in Pakistan is the current unraveling that surrounds us at home. The unsustainable is caving in. And in no area is it more visible than the area of Pakistan-US relations and within that on the issue of Pakistan’s policy on drones. Clearly, the Nawaz Sharif government is tackling the issue the best it possibly can. So did the PPP government.
With growing opposition pressure on drones the present government may have become a tad more proactive but it works, as its predecessor, within the realm of what a government can realistically achieve given the multiple challenges it must address simultaneously — ranging from security to economic and diplomacy to political. PTI has of course ensured that there is no ducking the issue but the contextual reality limits what any government can do. While Imran Khan was himself out on the road preventing Nato trucks from using the Torkham route, unless US stops drone attacks, the federal government has tried to use the PTI protests to engage Washington on the seriousness of the drones issue.
Nevertheless there is no victory for those who say no to drones. Instead opposition to drone attacks runs on parallel tracks. There is PTI and JI, physically disrupting Nato supply lines, with the government remaining engaged with Washington, explaining its position while also lobbying for the passage of UNGA resolution against the use of drones in ways that violate international law.
In Pakistan, anti-drone voices have increased, but they remain divided among the realists and the idealist-cum-rejectionists. The realists believe it will be difficult to stop the US and hence token protests are the maximum Pakistan can do. The idealists-cum-rejectionists, led by Imran, believe that linking the issue with Nato supplies will force Washington to stop drone attacks. In seeking an ideal and legally correct solution of no drones, the PTI is rejecting the complex reality of Pakistan’s current situation.
It’s a reality built on contradictions that our own policy-makers knowingly crafted. And it's never easy in the complex world of statecraft to cut and run from one’s own past mistakes. States must undo past blunders, but it’s undone as part of a process, not through instant one-off events. The reality is that States and by extension Nations must pay a price for policy blunders. As we are now paying -- confronted with terrifying large-scale terrorist killings and the occasional illegally fired drone over our territory, often killing a few innocent Pakistanis too.
On the drones issue the government necessarily belongs to the realist groups. Sharif personally raised the issue in his October meeting with Barack Obama, but the US President has not been willing to relent. In his previous meetings, he had essentially said that an object flying 75,000 feet above ground cannot be discussed. It is a counter-terrorism tool he has been sold on.
The government, meanwhile, condemns and contests US policy on drones, but realises that matters must proceed as normal as far Pakistan-US relations are concerned. In a major policy statement in the Senate last Tuesday, the prime minister’s Advisor on National Security and Foreign Policy, Sartaj Aziz, made it clear that its business as usual with the US. The Nato supplies, he informed the Senators, was continuing through the Balochistan route, hence Nato supplies via Pakistan had not been halted completely. While opposition to drones remains and there is an expectation that Washington will gradually stop the attacks, Pakistan-US Strategic Dialogue is scheduled to re-start in February after a break of almost two years. Aziz underscored the government’s effort to increase economic ties with the US. For now, a critically cash-strapped Pakistan is awaiting the release of a multi-billion dollar reimbursement from the Coalition Support Fund. Also, as Pakistan seeks support, especially from the International Monetary Fund, it needs Washington’s nod. Significantly, for keeping its relations on track with Washington, the government, other than PTI and JI, enjoys support of most political parties.
On the security front, Pakistan and the US continue to cooperate on counter-terrorism and on setting up cross-border mechanisms along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Senior level military exchanges continue, with the International Security Assistance Force chief, General Joseph Dunford, recently visiting Pakistan to meet the new Pakistan Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif.
Pakistan remains a key partner for Washington, as 2014 gets closer, and no less because the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has been less pliable with Washington over the Security Partnership Agreement that Washington is extremely keen to sign with Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s relations with the US are in the throes of readjustments on the drone and the militants issues. When General Parvez Musharraf gave permission to the US to conduct drone attacks, Pakistan’s soldiers fighting “terrorists” were relieved. Drones ensured fewer innocent civilians would get killed; the soldiers too were less vulnerable to counter-attacks by terrorists. In special briefings, we would always ask why couldn’t the people be told the facts as they were. It’s politics, they said. Politically, they told us, the truth is unaffordable. The truth was a little different. Then, attacking the US and seeking help from the US were two sides of Pakistan’s security policy. Hence the national security managers concluded that sharing the facts with the public wasn’t in “national interest”. That is another long story. The US too played its own game, but it played it more openly.
Yet, those games never became the centrepiece of either US politics or security policies. But Pakistan’s did. Today, weighed under the contradictions of Islamabad’s policies, there is a huge cleanup job that is required. National security and intelligence managers promoted various contradictions: America is an ally and America is an adversary; drones are important and drones be damned; terrorists are bad and some are good; conduct joint anti-terrorist operations with the CIA and the CIA is untrustworthy; get American military aid and Americans are totally unreliable. Perhaps this is how it was. The real world of paradoxes was exhibiting itself also in inter-state relations. But the costs were all accrued to Pakistan. Because the structures, the narratives, the emotional and ideological constructs around it were all built on Pakistani soil, in Pakistani hearts and minds. After all, one key dimension of Pakistan’s security policy since the 1908s was its populist dimension. Mujahideen, jihad, religion and staving off the anti-Islam were elements that had to become part of the ordinary Pakistani’s emotional construct.
But much of that is crumbling now under the weight of contradictions that have become a potent factor in Pakistan’s internal politics. However, the Sharif government and all the national security institutions are together piloting it carefully towards a more stable and transparent framework.