US Drone Strikes Undermining Pakistan Democracy (Woods)

Chris Woods writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

One of Islamabad’s most senior diplomats has told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that ongoing CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas are weakening democracy, and risk pushing people towards extremist groups.

He also claims that some factions of the US government still prefer to work with ‘just one man’ rather than a democratically-elected government, and accuses the US of ‘talking in miles’ when it comes to democracy but of ‘moving in inches.’

As High Commissioner to London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan is one of Pakistan’s top ambassadors. Now four years into his second stint in the post, he is no stranger to controversy. In an extended interview with the Bureau, Ambassador Hasan argues that US drone strikes risk significantly weakening Pakistan’s democratic institutions:

‘What has been the whole outcome of these drone attacks is, that you have rather directly or indirectly contributed to destabilizing or undermining the democratic government. Because people really make fun of the democratic government – when you pass a resolution against drone attacks in the parliament, and nothing happens. The Americans don’t listen to you, and they continue to violate your territory.’

The army too risks being seen as impotent, he warns the United States.

‘Please don’t embarrass us by violating our territory because people question why the hell we have such a huge standing army, where we spend so much on our national defence budget, when we can’t defend ourselves?’

But he accepts that Pakistan has little power to stop the strikes other than through public opinion: ‘We cannot take on the only superpower, which is all-powerful in the world at the moment. You can’t take them on. We are a small country, we are ill-equipped.’

‘I would have killed bin Laden myself’
The High Commissioner’s comments appear part of a major public relations offensive by a Pakistani government keen to see an end to the unpopular drone strikes.

On Friday Sherry Rehman, Islamabad’s ambassador to the United States, said that ‘We will seek an end to drone strikes and there will be no compromise on that.’ The heads of Pakistan’s army and ISI spy service are also lobbying Washington to allow Pakistani forces to carry out any actual strikes against terrorists based on US intelligence.

The reason, according to Ambassador Hasan, is that anti-US sentiment is reaching dangerously high levels in Pakistan because of the drones:

‘Even those who were supporting us in the border areas have now become our enemies. They say that we are partners in these crimes against the people. So they hate us as well. They hate the Americans more. If you look at the Pakistan-US relationship, we have received a lot of money from the Americans, and yet they’re the most hated country in Pakistan among the people. By and large you will hardly find anybody who will say a word in support for the United States, because of these drone attacks.’

We cannot take on the only superpower, which is all-powerful in the world at the moment. You can’t take them on. We are a small country, we are ill-equipped.’

The High Commissioner insists that his country remains committed to the war against al Qaeda and extremism, noting the thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers who have died in terrorist attacks since 9/11.

‘We’re not opposed to eliminating these al Qaeda chaps. We were not opposed to eliminating Osama bin Laden, because he was declared an international terrorist. If I were there I would have killed him myself.’

The issue, he insists, is the continued violation of Pakistan’s national sovereignty by US drones: ‘This is a violation of the UN Charter, it is a clear violation of our territorial sovereignty and national integrity. These drone violations have been taking place since 2004. And the attacks have killed 2,500 to 3,000 people.’

Those numbers chime with the Bureau’s own published findings, although the High Commissioner believes that a low count of at least 482 civilians killed by the CIA is likely a conservative figure. And he rejects US claims that it has killed few civilians at all in recent years:

‘What if my neighbour got killed in a drone attack, who had nothing to do with the Taliban or al Qaeda? You can imagine how angry I must be. Because it could be me next time. So that’s the sort of reaction we have. We have got everybody, irrespective of who they are – whether liberal, progressive, secular or religious extremists or radical people – they feel like this when civilians are killed.’

‘They talk in miles but move in inches’
Mr Hasan was also scathing about what he sees as the US’s weak commitment towards democracy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He also implies there are those in the US government who would still prefer to be dealing with a dictator:

The drones are a violation of the UN Charter, a clear violation of our territorial sovereignty and national integrity.’

They talk in miles in support of democracy, but they move in inches. They say, “We are fully for democracy, we want democracy, we support the Arab Spring, we are opposed to military interference in Egypt.” All of these things are very good. They are music to my ears. But when it comes to real politics they are different. [US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton has really supported democracy. But she is one person. There are so many pillars of power in the United States, and they act differently. ‘

‘The United States if you look at Pakistan’s 65 year history has always preferred to deal with one man rather than with institutions. They would never like a matter to go to the parliament, to be debated there, for issues to be accountable to the parliament and the people, they don’t want that, they want one man. ‘

The High Commissioner also questioned what America has achieved in ten years of war in Afghanistan – and what it might leave behind in 2014.

‘How long have NATO troops been there in Afghanistan? Nine, ten years? And they’ve spent trillions of dollars there, but have they succeeded to clear one particular area of Taliban or al Qaeda operatives? Not a single case.’

And he added: ‘Ten years down the road you have not even allowed democratic parties to be active, you are not allowing political parties to exist in Afghanistan. How can you have democracy if you don’t have political parties?

‘Drone strikes won’t end the violence’
The High Commissioner argues that Pakistan can still play a key role in negotiating peace with the Taliban – but that the US has shown little interest in offers of aid:

How long have NATO troops been there in Afghanistan? Nine, ten years? And they’ve spent trillions of dollars there, but have they succeeded to clear one particular area of Taliban or al Qaeda operatives? Not a single case.’

‘When we have been telling them that you must have a dialogue with the Taliban, good or bad, they never listen to us. Now they have started back-door diplomacy and all these backtracks through the Saudis and others. But again they’re forgetting one thing.

‘Pakistan has been one of the major players in the region, ever since the Soviets occupied Afghanistan. We have had the best relationship with those Afghans, the Taliban or whatever in the past. Couldn’t we be a better option for them to deal with those people? No – they never bothered.

With the US and NATO intending to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, Ambassador Hasan insists that Pakistan will continue the fight against Al Qaeda – but that it cannot accept US drone strikes.

‘Bush’s State Department said a fortnight before 9/11 that they were opposed to targeted killing [in Israel] because they don’t end the violence. And drone strikes won’t end the violence, they won’t end extremism, they won’t end the Taliban and won’t end al Qaeda. How do you fight a faceless enemy?

‘What you have to do is win the hearts and minds of the people, to solve the local problem there in Afghanistan, to stop the drone attacks in Pakistan so the people can see that yes, they have been stopped. Now let’s build a relationship, yes let’s try to resolve this terrible issue. Let’s fight terrorism. And we are a very resilient people, we can fight it.’

The High Commissioner is no stranger to controversial comments. Last year he strongly defended the innocence of Pakistani cricketers – only for them to be jailed on corruption charges. And in December he was reported to have claimed that some in Pakistan’s government may have been aware beforehand of the US raid which killed Osama bin Laden – a charge he denies.

Follow @chrisjwoods on Twitter

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Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

15 Responses

  1. Can ‘t trust any statements from the Pak. elites. Doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but I think their game-playing has played out. When the US withdraws from Afghanistan, it’s curtains for them. They agree-look at the net capital outflow to Dubai!

  2. “In an extended interview with the Bureau, Ambassador Hasan argues that US drone strikes risk significantly weakening Pakistan’s democratic institutions”

    “The heads of Pakistan’s army and ISI spy service are also lobbying Washington to allow Pakistani forces to carry out any actual strikes against terrorists based on US intelligence.”

    The above-cited two statements by Pakistan’s Ambassadors to London and Washington, respectively, can only be viewed as lame rhetorical attempts to defend the indefensible. Pakistan has no “democratic institutions” worthy of the name. Elections as such in Pakistan do not constitute “democracy.” The institutions that are embedded in true democracies: rule of law, civilian control of the military, courts that can be trusted, etc., simply do not exist and never have. Drone strikes may present the Pakistani government with difficulties, but a threat to a non-existent “democracy” they are not.

    As for the Pakistani army and the ISI being permitted to “carry out actual strikes against terrorists based on U.S. intelligence,” the idea is laughable. Does anyone truly think that Usama Bin Laden would have been taken out if the U.S. had given the intelligence regarding his location to the Pakistani army or the ISI for action? After spiriting Bin Laden and his entourage away, the after-action report would have reported the compound empty upon entry.

    Does Chris Woods take this stuff seriously?

    • You may be right about the sorry state of Pakistani democracy but that is not for us to fix. The decision for us is; do the drone strikes make the environment for Pakistani democracy better or worse? The answer to that should be obvious.

      Just like Pakistani democracy is not for us to fix so to is the Pakistani security forces not ours to fix. Of course we can trash both as is current policy.

      It is our mind set of “we can fix them” that is the real problem.

      • The decision for us is; do the drone strikes make the environment for Pakistani democracy better or worse?

        Forgive me but, I don’t think that the state of Pakistani democracy is the sole consideration for the United States to take into account in its security policy. An important one to be sure, but we do have this al Qaeda problem to consider as well.

        The decision for us is; do the drone strikes make the environment for Pakistani democracy better or worse? The answer to that should be obvious.

        Why should that be obvious? When was Pakistan’s democracy stronger: under Musharrif, before the drone strikes began; or during the past few years (that is, during the period when the drone strikes took off)?

        What can you point to in terms of real-world evidence that would show a decline in Pakistani democracy during the period of the drone war?

      • “We” are not trying to “fix” either Pakistani “democracy” or the Pakistani security forces. Whether one agrees with the drone strikes or not, we engage in them because the Pakistanis have shown themselves incapable of engaging with and rooting out terrorist leaders within their borders.

        • So tell us, Bill, out of your depth of knowledge, what ARE “we” trying to do by droning and hellfiring the mountains of northeast Notagainistan and northwest Pakistan?

          So is the logic is that any time “we” define some set of people as “terrorist leaders,” that’s the green light to do whatever murder “we” want to, without respect to national boundaries or “national interests” or even politics or, do you remember this word, “BLOWBACK?” Is it OK for Haqqanis to define our war leaders and sneaky-petes as “terrorist leaders” and kill them where they sit?

          Just in case people have forgotten, “our” sneaky-petes are a pretty noxious bunch who are doing “stuff” in our names, every day, that has nothing to do with any of the aspirational notions that “we” pretend to hold. There’s a few actual reporters of facts and relationships who make the foredoomed effort to remind the rest of us about what really goes on behind the Patriotic Curtain. A quick read is Chalmers Johnson’s distillation of the reasons why a US that believed and acted on its supposed “fundamental values” ought to demolish the CIA and salt the ground it was built on: link to tomdispatch.com

          There’s a guy who has been inside the belly of the Beast, and knows whereof he speaks. Unlike the Narrative Supporters who piecemeal try to shut the mouths of any who point to the reality. Read Chalmers’ stuff, and Smedley Butler’s, and the several others who spell it out, and then get “disgusted” if you can about comparisons of the actions of “our Rough Men” to carrion eaters and maggot-breeders. They are driving “us” over a very high cliff, though of course they are wearing the parachutes they deny to the rest of us…

  3. The problem is, we simply arrogated unto ourselves the right to bomb any country, at any time, regardless of its form of government. We never specified the difference between Paksistan or, say, France.

    The nice thing about Declarations of War, back when we used to use them, was that they were costly in political capital so you can’t have a half dozen wars going on at the same time. Is Pakistan our enemy or isn’t it? Shouldn’t our elected officials be required to make that clear?

    • We are not “bombing” Pakistan. We are engaging enemy terrorist leaders by hitting them with drone strikes because the Pakistanis have proven to be unable or unwilling, or both, to engage and take them out themselves. We have a right to engage an enemy that would do us harm if the enemy is in a secure sanctuary within the borders of Pakistan, and the Pakistanis do nothing about it. The drone strikes are directed at the terrorist leaders, not at Pakistan. Pakistani leaders are well aware that we are not directing the strikes at Pakistan.

      Regarding declarations of war, historically, they have been the exception. Since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, there have been five: The War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. In any case the question is moot, since we are not at war with Pakistan.

    • Was Belgium our enemy in the 1940s. We dropped an awful lot of bombs in Belgium in the 1940s – and yet, we weren’t at war with them. How could this be?

      • Joe, it’s kind of hard to follow your logic here.

        What’s the parallel between German armies all over the European map, including Belgium, being bombed with varying and post-hoc-seemingly questionably effective tonnage, as part of a world war spasm that had the potential, sort of, for the Germans to “dominate everything,” and annoying Haqqanis and maybe a salting of a tiny number of “al Quaedas” up there in the Northwest Tribal Regions, who are doing what again?? Attacking “our” little poutposts, put there purposely to annoy and attack people who pose little or no threat to “us?”

        “We” have no freakin’ business there. Far as I can see, “We” have no “national interest” that can be denominated, outside of some fuzzy notion of Great Game whiz-kiddery. And of course the inertia of the whole insane military-industrial-political futility that says “We’ve” thrown a whole lot of money into this foolishness, we have a huge, profitable bureaucracy in place to keep on doing this same grotesque, expensive crap, our sneaky petes have careers and contacts to maintain, and all the rest.

        “We” have mastered the dirty arts of “regime change” and de-stabilization and suckering our population into paying for inflating the endless, infinitely elastic bubbles of imperial wars. Too bad “we” don’t invest a tiny fraction of all that subtlety and wealth into understanding and carrying forward the kinds of strategems and processes that lead to a HEALTHY meta-stability — not the spurious “stability” of having “our guy” as dictator of this or that corrupt polity.

        • What’s the parallel between German armies all over the European map, including Belgium, being bombed with varying and post-hoc-seemingly questionably effective tonnage, as part of a world war spasm that had the potential, sort of, for the Germans to “dominate everything,” and annoying Haqqanis and maybe a salting of a tiny number of “al Quaedas” up there in the Northwest Tribal Regions

          They are both enemies against whom the United States Congress invoked its war powers, who are operating in the territory of a non-hostile state that is incapable of ejecting them. Because that friendly state is incapable of ejecting them, we end up fighting our war against that wartime enemy in the territory of a non-hostile state.

          This is hard to follow? OK.

          “We” have no freakin’ business there. Far as I can see, “We” have no “national interest” that can be denominated, outside of some fuzzy notion of Great Game whiz-kiddery.

          As far as you can see, the United States has no freakin’ business using force against al Qaeda. You should get your eyes checked.

          “We” have mastered the dirty arts of “regime change” and de-stabilization and suckering our population into paying for inflating the endless, infinitely elastic bubbles of imperial wars.

          We’re trying to change the regime in Pakistan? That’s why we’re bombing al Qaeda targets in the FATAs? For regime change?

        • I guess, Joe, it’s all so simple when your version of the world is kind of a 3-level game of RISK!, and protecting a narrative that has “us” doing good, or right, or maybe just proper by your estimation, everywhere, is the central tenet of belief.

          Love the false equivalence between the Nazi/Axis war machine and a penny-ante pecksniff little bunch called “al Quaeda,” which becomes a casus idioti for trillions of dollars of grotesquely wasteful, distorting violence that so far has produced what? a SWAT takedown of bin Laden, after years of failure or unconcern? Stupid behaviors like setting the Marines up in Beirut for a truck bombing, and detecting IEDs by having GIs drive over them? Billions of dollars spent killing hundreds of people, many or even most of whom are just villagers, not even “terraists?” What “we” are doing is not even efficient — and Ted Gunderson, the FBI LA station chief, says most terror attacks are committed by “our” CIA and FBI: link to nakedcapitalism.com

          And the tribe you swing for: Interesting little takeaway from current news, it seems Lt. General William Odom, NSA director under Reagan, who said this:

          “Because the US itself has a long record of supporting terrorists and using terrorist tactics, the slogans of today’s war on terrorism merely make the United States look hypocritical to the rest of the world…. By any measure the US has long used terrorism. In ’78-’79 the Senate was trying to pass a law against international terrorism — in every version they produced, the lawyers said the US would be in violation.”

          Op. cit.

          “We’re” doing it, so it must be Right, right? Rationalization in favor of one’s tribe is I guess laudable from a certain point of view. When it comes to the species, not so much. Not even from the standpoint of survival and prospering of the freakin’ nation you plump for.

        • Actually, JT, your belief that we are trying “regime change” in Pakistan is the closest think to a game of Risk in this conversation. You seem to think that counter-terrorism is the same thing as taking over a country and basing your armies in it.

          All you are doing is digging in with a line of canned patter, reading off your very favorite, well-worn note cards – the same set your use for every occasion.

          Love the false equivalence between the Nazi/Axis war machine and a penny-ante pecksniff little bunch called “al Quaeda,”

          The only equivalence I have drawn is to note that we have declared war on them both, and that they both have a presence in other countries. Are either of these equivalences “false,” or is “false equivalence” one of your very favorite words, like “regime change,” that you use purely out of sentiment?

          Super390 asked a question – are we at war with Pakistan? – and I answered it. None of this blather, none of the very favorite lines you remember from the Bush years, has the slightest relevance to the answer I gave.

          “We’re” doing it, so it must be Right, right?

          The only one in this discussion who has based any argument whatsoever on who is doing it is you, JT. You just spent how much of your life writing paragraph after irrelevant paragraph about whatever terrible thing the United States did eighty years ago happened to flit through your consciousness, used that as a reason why something we’re doing now is wrong, and then accused me of basing my opinions of right and wrong on who is dong something?

          Whatever, man.

      • Belgium WAS part of Nazi Germany during the war. That is the point of conquest. Nazi-occupied countries had their sovereign governments replaced by Wehrmacht rule or by puppet regimes composed of local fascists, whose atrocities later war crime tribunals held Berlin responsible for. If we had recognized those regimes as sovereign, we would have considered them enemy states like Germany’s allies Hungary, Romania and Italy, which we bombed.

        So to return to my question, is the FATA a sovereign state that is our enemy, or is it a puppet under control of an outside entity that is our enemy?

        Our entire problem there was caused by the Pakistani army, which for decades has organized violence from Kashmir to Afghanistan as part of an agenda to rule them through puppets so vicious that Marshal Petain would have winced. Sounds pretty Nazi to me.

        This army had direct and indirect US help for much of this effort, based on its bloody anti-leftist credentials. It created the Taliban, then organized militants in the FATA to support it. Its junta starved its public school system to save money for its own priorities, and let in Wahhabi missionaries to create madrassas instead. It spent everything on nuclear weapons and we pretended not to notice.

        So the problem with FATA gets bumped up to the next level: is our enemy the Pakistani army, a rogue organization that has behaved much like the Japanese army in the late 1930s, or the fragile civil state that exists at the army’s whim?

        As for your insinuation that Pakistan’s sovereignity can be bypassed because it refuses to control the FATA, you must recall that Bush pressured Musharraf to invade the fiercely-independent (by legal intent!) tribal homelands to prove his new loyalty to us, and the movements (dating back to the days of Reagan’s support) that he and his peers had fostered there rightly felt betrayed and fought back hard. So we made things worse, and our bombings began.

        So why don’t we treat the Pakistani army like the enemy? Because it has nukes and we’re scared of it, or charitably, because we know it will overthrow the new democracy and we can’t stop it. But our commitment to international law is bullshit if we bomb henchmen under ad hoc legalisms because we’re afraid to call out their masters. It’s just as much bullshit as our wars on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, leading to the FORESEEABLE deaths of millions, while we played footsie with Moscow and Beijing. Either there is a real Soviet threat, or Pakistani threat, or whatever, and we deal with it by the means of international law up to a declaration of war, or we’re just murdering each others’ henchmen in a bloody turf game that has nothing to do with our legitimate national survival.

        What good is international law, or liberal support for it, if it does not deter that Orwellian nightmare?

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