A Pakistani parliamentary committee urged the government to go beyond mere diplomatic protests and take action to halt the US airstrikes against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s northwest, according to Daily Times:
Parliament’s Special Committee on National Security on Tuesday urged the government to go beyond verbal protests and play its role in stopping US drone attacks on Pakistani soil.
The in-camera committee meeting, which was chaired by Senator Raza Rabbani, was briefed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the new US policy on Afghanistan. Sources privy to the meeting told Daily Times that there was a consensus among party members over halting US drone attacks in the country.
They said although the foreign minister informed the committee that the government was raising the drone attack issue at every forum, committee members asked the foreign minister to proceed beyond mere statements and take concrete steps to resolve the issue.
According to Dawn, Foreign Minister Qureshi reportedly said that the Pakistani government would not permit the expansion of the US air campaign into Baluchistan, nor would it allow US forces to conduct ‘hot pursuit’ of Taliban forces fleeing Afghanistan into Pakistan. “The US intrusion into Pakistan is a step against our sovereignty,” Qureshi said, according to Daily Times.
As I’ve mentioned before, if Pakistan wants to end these attacks, it can deploy anti-aircraft batteries to shoot down the US strike aircraft. The Predators and Reapers are unmanned, so there is no chance of killing US pilots and creating a political row. The aircraft won’t be difficult to shoot down either. Pakistan would be well within its legal rights to defend its territory from incursions by US aircraft.
This political kabuki dance by the Pakistani government highlights just how bad the situation inside Pakistan is, and how precarious the US alliance with Pakistan is as well. The US is forced to conduct airstrikes in an allied country that it sends billion of dollars. But the US can’t admit publicly that it conducts said airstrikes. The Pakistani government denounces the airstrikes as a violation of its sovereignty, even though the strikes occur in a region where the government isn’t sovereign. Government officials lament the deaths of Pakistani citizens caused by its ally, even though the government secretly supports the US campaign and elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services (the counterterrorism branch of the Inter-Services Intelligence, for instance) provide targeting information to US intelligence. And the vast majority of those killed in the strikes are Taliban or al Qaeda fighters and leaders.
But the Pakistani government doesn’t want the secret campaign that it secretly supports but publicly denounces to expand to taking on the Taliban in Baluchistan, because that wouldn’t be politically viable. Nor will the government take on Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura, or the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, because powerful elements in the government, military, and intelligence services secretly support Omar, the Haqqanis, and company as these groups are viewed as ‘strategic depth’ against an anticipated US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a bulwark against India.
Meanwhile, as the Pakistani government denounces the US strikes, it provides rich, anti-American fodder for the Taliban and al Qaeda’s propaganda mill.
Strangely enough, the US air campaign in Pakistan is the best possible course of action in a series of very bad options. Barring a change of strategic direction by the Pakistani establishment, the strikes will continue, but very likely will not expand into Baluchistan. The US does not have the political will or resources to commit to an invasion and occupation of Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Northwest Frontier Province, or Baluchistan. And even if the US did, Pakistan’s jihadi problem extends deep into Punjab and Sindh, even though Pakistani government officials refuse to admit this. At the same time, if the US doesn’t disrupt al Qaeda’s external operations network currently based in northwestern Pakistan, it leaves itself open to the next attack.
The limited US air campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban isn’t a strategy for victory, as some proponents make it out to be. It is a stopgap tactic designed to keep al Qaeda at bay because the Pakistani government won’t police its sovereign territory.
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