Drone Attacks: Unpopular In Pakistan

pakistan1.jpgSurveying the challenges that await the new administration, Brian Katulis and Steve Bowden write that “a broader shift of US troops and resources from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan seems likely,” noting that General David Petraeus, the former top US commander in Iraq, “chose Pakistan as his first overseas visit in his new position as the head of the US Central Command covering the Middle East.”

During that visit, Pakistani leaders complained of continued U.S. airstrikes in Pakistan:

After the meeting with General Petraeus, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan said in a statement: “Continuing drone attacks on our territory, which result in loss of precious lives and property, are counterproductive and difficult to explain by a democratically elected government. It is creating a credibility gap.” […]

The American missile attacks in the tribal areas were generating “anti-American sentiments” and creating “outrage and uproar among the people,” [Pakistani defense minister Ahmad] Mukhtar said in a statement.

A senior Pakistani military official said the army wanted to “bring home the point that the missile strikes are counterproductive, and that this is driving a wedge between the government and the tribal people.”

This MSNBC report on Pakistani reaction to Obama’s victory also has several respondents condemning U.S. airstrikes:

Akram Zaki, 75, a former diplomat, [said] “It’s time for Pakistan to wake up and shape up and demand the U.S. respect the resolutions of our own democratic Parliament and stop these drone attacks inside our borders.” […]

A majority of Pakistanis still view the war on terror as America’s war and the missile attacks by unmanned U.S. predator drones on al-Qaida and Taliban targets inside the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border as a violation of their sovereignty.

“Despite billions of dollars that the Bush administration has poured into Pakistan, the U.S. government has not been successful in changing the perceptions of the Pakistanis towards the U.S,” said Imran Javaid, a property developer in Islamabad. “The constant U.S. drone attacks on us have made a considerable dent in our once good bi-lateral relations.”

In terms of containing the spread of Islamic extremism, the Pakistan relationship is arguably the most important one the United States has. The new administration has a tough job ahead between promoting Pakistani stability, encouraging and empowering the Pakistani government to deal with threats emanating from their territory, and doing what has to be done when they can’t or won’t.

As I’ve written before, I think a necessary first step in doing this is dumping the war on terror. Positing U.S anti-terrorism policy as an existential struggle in which there are two sides — A) “with us” or B) “against us” — needlessly puts a potentially unpopular and politically costly choice before those regimes whose cooperation we’re trying to secure. The government of Pakistan has an interest in stopping the spread of Salafist extremism, but it has no interest in signing on to a global war which looks to its own citizens too much like neo-imperialism.