Although 2012 saw an accelerating drawdown of the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, a grim aspect of that decade-long war — reliance on air strikes by unmanned drones — continued unabated. Indeed, those attacks were stepped up, with America’s use of drone warfare in Pakistan reaching an unprecedented height over the past year. With President Barack Obama re-elected and no longer facing the pressure of a campaign, it will now be in America’s interest — and certainly in the interest of Pakistan — to use the first year of his new term to de-escalate the violence.
America’s drone strikes in Pakistan reflect an arrogant frame of mind that fails to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent, between the perpetrator and the afflicted and between the criminal and the aggrieved. By banishing all trappings of justice, this mindset is oblivious to the suffering of the peace-loving civilians who comprise the vast majority of those living in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The US drone strikes have left behind a long trail of death of innocent civilians, with no one being held accountable. These remote-controlled flying machines are programmed to decimate brutally and indiscriminately. It is shameful that a country known for its democratic values and its unparalleled commitment to human freedom should stoop so low as to kill innocent men, women and children.
As a result, instead of winning hearts and minds, the US, with the constant humming of killer drones in the air, is driving fear into every living soul in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Indeed, the bloody irony is that the strategy is utterly counter-productive; the people of the tribal areas, with their warrior past, end up joining the militants, justifying their actions as jihad against the forces occupying Afghanistan and their helpers in Pakistan.
Indeed, according to a recent report by researchers at New York University School of Law and Stanford Law School, the people in the areas targeted by the drone campaign are being systematically terrorised. The drone strategy constitutes a campaign of terror — highly effective terror in which even funerals of drone victims have been targeted. In one particularly notorious case, 40 maleks (tribal leaders) holding a jirga (tribal assembly) were burned in an indiscriminate attack.
Alongside many luminaries around the world, former US president Jimmy Carter has condemned Obama’s barbaric drone policy. However, the complicity of Pakistan’s government is equally reprehensible. According to WikiLeaks, former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had approved the US drone strikes, saying: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” President Asif Ali Zardari went even further, saying that he did not care about the “collateral damage”.
So Pakistan’s government has failed in its principal responsibility, enshrined in its constitution, to safeguard the lives and property of its citizens, as well as the country’s security and sovereignty. More than 40,000 citizens have been killed since the beginning of the US war in Afghanistan, because Pakistan’s government criminally collaborates with forces that facilitated its rise to power. And, in the face of ongoing military operations, most schools in Waziristan have remained closed for the past seven years, depriving a generation of children of education and opportunity.
The road to peace in South Asia runs through restive Waziristan. Despite countless sacrifices in the face of the arbitrary cruelty of drone strikes, the resolve of the people of tribal areas remains undented. While they continue to seek peace, they are not willing to compromise their honour and self-respect, however daunting the challenges they confront.
The true face of their cultural patrimony and proud traditions must be brought to the world’s attention, so that their dream of peace with honour can be realised. However, this can happen only when the US and Pakistani governments disengage from their “war on terror”. Indeed, only when Pakistan is no longer perceived as fighting a US war will local militants stop thinking of the conflict as a jihad against foreign intervention. Peace will come when the tribal people, in their hundreds and thousands, no longer see a reason to fight.
In short, the drone strikes constitute a flawed policy that has only strengthened anti-US sentiment and the forces of extremism in Pakistan. America’s killing machines have failed to subjugate the area’s proud people — a failure that underlies the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. I believe that the withdrawal should have come even earlier, so that the US can avoid leaving behind a legacy of animosity that may continue to haunt it for generations.
Only a rapid change of course by the Obama administration in 2013 can begin to counteract the enmity towards the US that has been generated by more than a decade of its forces’ lethal presence in the region. America’s drone war, with its wanton destruction of families and communities, is deepening that antipathy. To get peace in Afghanistan — and indeed in all of South Asia — the US needs to give peace a chance!
— Project Syndicate, 2012
Imran Khan is the leader of Pakistan’s Tehrik-i-Insaaf opposition party and a former leading international cricketer.