Is Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif Naive on Drones?

Is Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif too naive or rather ill-informed on drones? And is he really serious about violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty?

sharif-obama-dronesPESHAWAR, Pakistan — These are the questions that people in Pakistan are asking after the Prime Minister’s latest visit to the United States and his meeting the US President Barack Obama.

After Obama’s refusal to meet Sharif during the recent United Nations General Assembly session, the Pakistani PM had to reschedule another visit to the United States. The visit, gaining hype and attention, proved nothing but a failed attempt to influence Obama on a failed cause – the drone attacks.

In a relatively short meeting, Sharif repeated his demand of halting the “illegal” CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, FATA, which violate the country’s sovereignty. This demand turned into an embarrassment when Obama opted to stay mum on drones.

Adding to Sharif’s embarrassment, Obama scolded him for not starting the trial of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks in India, which have been linked to Pakistan.

To make the matters worse, on the same day, Amnesty International launched its report, Will I be Next?, on drones tracking drone attacks and its victims. The report holds the United States, its allies, and the Pakistan government responsible of committing serious war crimes.

This in-depth report also exposed many untold stories based on CIA drone strikes where innocent civilians, mistaken as militants, were targeted and murdered. An old grandmother and eighteen laborers were among the dozens of innocent residents falling prey to vicious predator strikes.

Moreover, a United Nations report also revealed that from 2004 to 2008, the Pakistan authorities not only allowed  drone strikes; they endorsed them as well.

With no denial of these reports from Pakistan, one can believe that a tacit deal on drones exists between Pakistan and the US, with the former making ritual protests against drones to cater public sentiments.

Even with Pakistan’s tacit approval, pressure is growing on the Obama Administration to reconsider its drone policy.

Selective targeting in these strikes also puts a big question mark on the overall operations. Where Pakistan considers Tehrik e Taliban (TTP) as a major threat to its security, US drones only target the Haqqani network or Al Qaeda – a threat to US forces and Afghanistan – and not the TTP.

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In order to dispel this notion, the US has also targeted a couple of TTP commanders, including the recent strike on Pakistani Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mehsud, along with Baitullah Mehsud and Wali ur Rehman, with their deaths jeopardizing Pakistan’s peace process with the Taliban.

What makes this issue complex in Pakistan is the heavy mandate that the Muslim League of PM Sharif and the Justice Party of Imran Khan, a prominent opposition leader ruling the north-west province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), received in the May elections against drones.

Both parties and their leaders were adamant that their election would ultimately stop any sort of intervention in the country, especially drones. But to date, both have failed  to live up to the people’s expectations, with the recent UN and Amnesty reports further damaging their cause.

During his election campaign Sharif made grand claims of taking Pakistan out of the US clutches, without asking for aid. His motto of “Trade and not Aid” played well to the gallery and thus helped him receive an overwhelming majority in the polls.

But much to the country’s disappointment, not only did Sharif fail to influence Obama’s drone policy, but his government had to reach out to the IMF for a loan package, resulting in further tariff hikes.

So why is Sharif still adamant on protecting Pakistan’s sovereignty and integrity?

Drones are still operating with ease (with Pakistan’s approval).

In 2011, Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor, killed several Pakistanis in daylight and escaped. The same year, a US strike killed Pakistani military personnel on border, and Pakistan could not even get a proper apology. The US Counterterrorist Pursuit Teams (CTPT) operate on the border regions, even with the presence of Pakistani forces.

Should Pakistan still raise the issue of sovereignty in international forums?

With the aforementioned instances, it’s an easy question to answer!

Farooq Yousaf is a program consultant and editor at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad. He is also pursuing his Masters in Public Policy and Conflict Studies from Germany. He can be reached at farooq@crss.pk. Read other articles by Farooq.