Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa said today that US drone strikes and other unilateral actions “are against spirit of ongoing cooperation” and that any intelligence on terrorist whereabouts should be forwarded to the army for action. Bajwa made the statement despite the fact that Pakistani officials have routinely passed along actionable intelligence to terrorists to help them avoid raids, as well as supposed “counterproductive” drone strikes have historically been effective in killing scores of top tier terrorist leaders.
Bajwa’s view on drone strikes were summarized in an Inter-Services public relations press release that was issued on June 14, just one day after the US killed a Haqqani network leader and two of his deputies in an attack in Pakistan’s northwestern district of Hangu. From the ISPR press release:
COAS [Chief of Army Staff Bajwa] said that unilateral actions like drone strike etc are counterproductive and against spirit of ongoing cooperation and intelligence sharing being diligently undertaken by Pakistan. Pakistan Army is capable of taking effective measure if actionable intelligence is shared. He said that our focus now is to transform our operational achievements in FATA into enduring peace and stability for which early mainstreaming of FATA through reforms is essential and Pakistan Army fully supports all efforts towards that end.
Bajwa’s statement is astounding for many reasons, two of which will be addressed below:
> When the US shared “actionable intelligence,” it has been passed along to jihadist leaders
Bajwa insists that all the US needs to do is share intelligence, and the Pakistan military will handle the problem on its own. Yet it is well documented that when the US has given intelligence on groups such as the Haqqani Network, Pakistani officials have passed it along to the terrorists. The Washington Post detailed two such incidents, when, in June 2011, the US passed along information to Pakistani officials on an al Qaeda facility in South Waziristan and a Haqqani Network bomb factory at a girls’ school in North Waziristan. Unsurprisingly, when Pakistani forces arrived, the two locations were empty.
The US has continued its drone program because the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate, could not be trusted.
Pakistan’s duplicity when it comes to supporting terrorist organizations in the region is well known. The Afghan Taliban would be a shadow of itself without the support and safe haven provided by the Pakistani government.
> “Counterproductive” strikes have killed far more top tier leaders in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan than the Pakistani military
US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed more than 120 top tier jihadist leaders and operatives in the 396 recorded strikes in Pakistan since the program began in 2004. The jihadists killed come from a host of groups, including al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban its subgroup, the Haqqani Network, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Turkistan Islamic Party, Hizb Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Jhagvi, the Hafiz Gul Bahadar group, and the Mullah Nazir Group (FDD’s Long War Journal maintains a list, here).
Pakistan often views many of these strikes as counterproductive because the US is killing leaders from their pet jihadist groups, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the Hafiz Gul Bahadar group, and the Mullah Nazir Group. Pakistani government and military officials have denounced strikes that have killed top leaders from these groups, which are known as “good Taliban” because they don’t actively oppose the Pakistani state. The irony is the good Taliban support the “bad Taliban,” which do fight the Pakistani state.
Oddly enough, Pakistani officials even protest when the US kills members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which has killed tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers in terrorist attacks and during its decade long insurgency in Pakistan’s northwest. Despite the fact that the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is a mortal enemy of the state, the Pakistani military has a paltry record in killing top tier leaders of the group. But US drone strikes have taken out key leaders of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, including:
Hakeemullah Mehsud: Baitullah’s successor
Waliur Rehman Mehsud: Hakeemullah’s deputy and head of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in South Waziristan
Qari Hussain Mehsud: the head of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s suicide operations and director of suicide camps
Wali Mohammed: the head of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s suicide operations
Ibn Amin: a Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan military commander in Swat who was also a senior al Qaeda leader
These men were directly responsible for murdering numerous Pakistani civilians and soldiers, and had eluded Pakistani intelligence and military operations for years before they were killed by the US drone program. The killing of these top leaders even led to a schism within the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan for more than a year before the group could reorganize, with divisions that remain to this day.
Pakistani military and government officials have showed their gratitude by condemning most of these strikes.
However, despite Pakistan’s denouncement of the strikes, there is little the nation can do to halt them, short of deploying its air force and shooting down the US aircraft. In the past, the Pakistani government shut down NATO supply lines into Afghanistan in protest of the US raids. However, the US continued to target and kill top level jihadist leaders in cross-border attacks. The number of US drone strikes have decreased drastically from 117 during the peak year of 2010 to just three in 2016 and four so far this year.
Pakistani objections and international criticism have at times caused the US to halt the strikes, but only for a short period of time. Even though the US hates the optics of unilateral strikes on foreign territory without warning, the US has not reduced the number of strikes in 2016 and 2017 because of fear of retribution from Pakistan or international condemnation. Instead, the reduction can be attributed to several things: the US has shifted some resources and assets to other theaters to target al Qaeda in Somalia and Yemen, as well as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; and US intelligence incorrectly assessed al Qaeda’s presence in the region as diminished.