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The relations between Pakistan and America have been strained for some time now. In November 2011, NATO cross-border airstrikes killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers at a checkpoint near the Afghan border. The Pakistani government retaliated by closing down the NATO supply line route and demanded an unconditional apology from the U.S. Pakistan also demanded an end to drone attacks within its territory and increased transit fees for NATO trucks carrying supplies to Afghanistan.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman of Pakistan’s People Party (PPP) said in a press statement in New York on March 2012, that US drone attacks violated Pakistan’s sovereignty. Bilawal’s words reflected the public mood across Pakistan, as mass rallies were staged to remonstrate against the deaths of soldiers and impending drone attacks.
The U.S. government launched its drone war in northwest Pakistan in 2004. Unsurprisingly, this action led to a wave of fury across the Pakistani spectrum, with thousands coming out in the streets to protest against the violation of Pakistan’s territorial space. According to President Obama, the drone strikes target “al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
According to Amnesty International, “US drone attacks have doubled overall in Pakistan during the Obama administration. Thousands of people have been killed by the strikes – civilians as well as militants.” While the unmanned drone war is a new strategy in the U.S. war on terror in Pakistan, it does raise questions about the legality of such attacks. Though, the U.S. has assured time and time again that the targets are terrorists and not civilians, not much is known about the rules of engagement and how the new self defense war strategy complies with International humanitarian law.
The diplomatic wikileaks cables disclosure that Pakistan covertly assented to drone attacks, shared intelligence information, and allowed usage of its airfields was a shocking exposure of some prominent names within the Pakistani cabinet. This included interior Minister Rehman Malik, former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and Pakistani Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez.
According to Wikileaks cables, former Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousaf Razza Gillani permitted the drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Guardian reported that according to leaked cables, “Malik suggested we hold off alleged Predator attacks until after the Bajaur operation.” The Prime Minister disregarded the remarks, stating, “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.”
It was not until July 2012, that the U.S. issued its long overdue apology over the role it played in fatalities of Pakistan’s military personals, almost 7 months after the incident. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton delivered a nuanced apology over the telephone to Pakistani foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Clinton said: “I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives.”
The Pakistani Parliament was quick to accept the apology and, against parliamentary resolution, reinstated supply lines to Afghanistan. However, the opposition faction in Pakistan’s National Assembly is not too happy with the elusive apology. According to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, the U.S. has not apologized formally. The Difai-Pakistan Council (DPC) has announced an anti NATO march against the reopening of the supply line on July 8 in Pakistan.
Newstribe.com reported that Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), Imran Khan, said the “US had not sought an unconditional apology over the cross border aggression.” Khan announced that his party will be protesting against the government decision on July 5 in Gujranwala.
While the Pakistani government was all set to convince its public over the resumed relations between the two countries, another US drone attack in Pakistan’s Wazeristan area on Friday has further heightened tensions. Speaking to Pakistani Newspaper, Dawn, Imran Khan condemned the latest attack and said that the “latest drone attack speaks volumes about so-called close working partnership between Pakistan and the US in [the] ongoing war.”
The recent death toll from strikes is estimated at 19-20, subsequently, leading to mounting public fury over the violation of the country’s sovereignty. Khan has been active in his campaign on the social network site, twitter, about identifying those unnamed dead people, including women and children, in the drone strikes.
Judging by the public anger and demonstrations in the streets, even though theoretically the joint venture of the drone war may be successful in eliminating potential nemeses in the barren areas of Pakistan, it is certainly failing to win the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan.
Image Courtesy of AN HONORABLE GERMAN