Drones and Sovereignty

Apr 29th, 2011 | By | Category: Jang, The News

The News (Jang Group)The News on Thursday includes a critical attack on political leadership by Vice-chairman Sindh National Front Ameer Bhutto. At issue for the former MPA is the response of politicians to ongoing drone attacks, which Ameer terms “nothing short of an open declaration of war against Pakistan”. But a closer look at the facts reveals something very different.

Under international law, a declaration of war is a formal announcement by one nation of intent to go to war against another nation, usually through a speech or proclamation document. Obviously the US has not ‘declared war against Pakistan’.

What Ameer Bhutto is referring to is more accurately described as a “Casus Belli” or an act by one nation justifying retaliation by the other. This would be the case for acts of aggression or invasion for which the attacked or invaded country would be considered justified in fighting back. Ameer would let his readers believe that Pakistan is being invaded or attacked by a foreign force via the drone strikes. But is this the case?

A report by international media group McClatchy last week revealed that Pakistan is allowing drone attacks to be launched from an airbase in Baluchistan.

Despite the tensions, however, the Pakistani military still is allowing the CIA to fly its remotely piloted Predator drones out of Shamsi Air Base, about 200 miles southwest of the Baluchistan capital of Quetta, U.S. officials said.

Asked about a Pakistani newspaper report that the Pakistani army had halted the CIA’s use of Shamsi, a U.S. counter-terrorism official replied, “That would certainly be news to us.”

Another reason to doubt Ameer Bhutto’s claim is described in a recent article in TIME:

The reasons for Pakistan’s sudden decision to end seven years of either tolerating or silently approving of the drones program remain unclear, raising questions about the nature of its current vehement complaint.

In fact, the ambiguity of the situation arises from the ranks of the Pakistani military — out of the public arena. For example, on March 23rd, Gen. Kayani played host to a clutch of senior retired generals and, amid the tea and collegial bonhomie, the conversation casually turned to Kayani’s statement a week earlier. Some of the visitors wondered why he had adopted such a sharp tone, describing the March 17 attack as an “unjustified and intolerable” violation of human rights. “These drones do have some use,” one of the retired generals said, according to someone present. “Yes, they do have a use,” Gen. Kayani was heard to reply.

Ever since the advent of the CIA program, the Pakistani security establishment has been content to at least tolerate the covert drones, and even come to discreetly approve of it. The very first drone strike in 2004 killed Nek Muhammad, a forerunner to the Pakistani Taliban. In 2006, when an airstrike killed some 80 people in Bajaur, provoking domestic outrage and the first major retaliatory suicide bombing, Pakistan maintained that its forces were responsible for the incident — not the U.S. And, over at least the past year, Pakistani generals have come to be impressed by the accuracy of the drones and their ability to limit militant movements.

Ameer Bhutto’s claim is also undermined by the briefing held earlier this year by Gen. Ghayur Mehmood, “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes” which was reported in Dawn:

General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood said in a briefing here: “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.

In fact, one year ago Pakistan Army conducted an effective test that proved the capability to target drones with Radar Directed Orlikon Anti-Aircraft weapon as part of the Excersize Azm-e-Nau III.

Considering the facts of the case, neither does it make sense to claim that drone strikes are an act of war, nor does it make sense to declare that they are a violation of sovereignty. This does not defend the practice of drone strikes nor does it mean that the practice should continue. But if Pakistan military is cooperating and consenting to the drone attacks, then it cannot, by definition, violate sovereignty.

And here we must ask the obvious question: If Pakistan military is complicit in the drone strikes, why does Ameer Bhutto take out his venom on the civilian politicians? According to Ameer’s article,

The incumbent lot has learnt the lesson from the fate their predecessors suffered that if you want to save your necks and your hold on to power, prostrate yourselves before the foreign masters and deny them nothing. Compromise national sovereignty. Compromise your principles, integrity and commitments to the people. Compromise everything, but keep the gora sahibs happy. Thus, they have handed the country over to them on a silver platter. In return, the foreign masters prop them up in power and give them free reign to run the country into the ground with their corruption and incompetence.

According to data collected by New America Foundation drones database, drone strikes began in 2004. During this time there was a government led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The military has the ability to shoot down drones, but chooses not to. The military also allows drones to be flown from its airbases inside the borders – these are not cross-border attacks. Also the generals have said publicly that the drone attacks are useful. But the full amount of Ameer Bhutto’s venom is reserved for politicians only.

Actually, Ameer Bhutto claims that, “Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa is held under some semblance of control only because of the heavy military presence there” as if military and not civilian politicians are the only institution able to protect the people. If this is true, then it logically follows that Ameer Bhutto should also support the military’s policy supporting drone strikes. Instead he simply uses public frustration with drone strikes as a pretext to launch into a political attack on civilian politicians.

In concluding his column, Ameer Bhutto complains that “If one talks about the compromising of national sovereignty, one is labelled as being ‘ultra-patriotic’”. This is simply not true. Talking about drone strikes being a violation of sovereignty when they are supported by our own military does not make one ‘ultra-patriotic’, it simply makes one misleading. Before accusing other people of “dishonest practices, lies, and deception”, Ameer Bhutto would be wise to more carefully consider his own claims first.

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