This is a on-going series. To read part 1 click here

Engaging the Enemy: The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban

Pakistan wants to continue to keep good relations with the Afghan Taliban in order to ensure that they will have a friendly regime once the United States leaves the area. But the rise of Tehrik-e-TalibanPakistan (Pakistani Taliban) have posed serious challenge to the very integrity of the Pakistani state. The complex network of tribal relationships and cultural differences between Pashtuns, Punjabis and other ethnic groups in Pakistan has made it difficult for Pakistan to successfully adjudicate it’s own ‘Wild West,’ not only in terms of defeating the Pakistani Taliban but also maintaining warm relations with Kabul. Islamabad’s ambition to ensure Afghanistan as a client state post-U.S. invasion means keeping the Afghan Taliban as allies an option.

No Afghan government has ever officially recognized the Durand Line separating Afghanistan and Pakistan as an international border,6 an obvious example that relations between the two countries’ governments are strained more often than not. Since most of the drone strikes have targeted TTP, Islamabad is willing to covertly support the drone strikes. The issue of drone attacks in FATA is yet another illustration of the ways in which Pakistani domestic politics and U.S. public denial of drone attacks has led to an effective counter insurgency tactic becoming a symbol of U.S. imperialism in Pakistan. It is clear that the Pakistani government and the army had been cooperating with the U.S. in drone operations. According to one survey of the population living in the FATA region, “the victim population does not seem too unhappy about the drones taking out the Taliban leadership, especially if the state is perceived as being unable to do so.”7 With increasing tensions between the United States and Pakistan discussed above and the increased unpopularity of drone attacks among the Pakistani public, this has led the Army and Pakistani government to pretend that they are against drone attacks.

In April 2012 the Pakistani Parliament passed a resolution asking an end to drone attacks. As Teresita Schaffer points out “There is not any precedent in Pakistan for parliamentary determination of this kind of a foreign policy issue…and the reason that the parliament was asked to take this action was basically that both the government and, perhaps more importantly, the army, wanted cover. Whatever they decided, they wanted to have as much political cover as they wanted. And I think that neither one was averse to parliament taking a pretty hard line.”8 The use of drones in the FATA region is a good example of covert cooperation between the United States and Pakistan while at the same time publicly denying such cooperation. It is also important to keep in mind that there are many areas in which the U.S. and Pakistani government cooperates. Stephen Kramer points out that: “Pakistan has generally allowed NATO to transport supplies through its territory to Afghanistan. It has helped capture some senior al Qaeda officials, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind. It has permitted the United States to launch drone strikes from bases in Baluchistan.” 9

Drones as a Counter-Insurgency Tactic?

For those who support drones as a counter insurgency weapon argue that a grounds operation to root out terrorist networks in the Tribal areas of Pakistan would be too costly both in terms of U.S. ‘blood and treasure’ and the lives of civilians living in the area. The civilian casualty rate as a result of UAV attacks is much lower, and roughly comparable to regular Pakistani Army ground operations. Not only that, but the death rate of the enemy combatants was much higher than that of the ground operations, and no friendly soldiers (Pakistani or American) were killed in the process. Research suggests that the exaggeration of civilian casualties was a tool used by the Pakistani government to gain political capital, and the real statistics show, according to various sources, that it is wrong to assert that UAV strikes have done disproportionate damage to innocents.10 (Matthew Fricker and Avery Plaw, 2010) Bryn Glyn Williams argues that: “The list of high value Al Qaeda targets assassinated in Pakistan is nothing short of impressive and is clear evidence of the precision of the deadly robotic drones.

It also testifies to the fact the CIA or its Pakistani allies have infiltrated spies into the tribal region.” In “Drone Warfare: Blowback from the New American Way of War” by Leila Hudson, Colin S. Owens, Matt Flannes, (Fall 2011) the authors argue that drone warfare in South Asia, in its current form, is counterproductive to the stated strategic goals of the United States. It’s increased violence and made the American’s mission in Afghanistan unnecessarily complicated. New adversaries are created in the ‘accidental guerilla’ phenomenon, wherein non-militants who are victimized by the drone strikes personally or tangentially and are motivated to become militants to oppose the United States’ campaign by force instead of just rhetorically.

The confusion that is created by a program that does not communicate effectively with other U.S. military and intelligence elements in the area makes the accomplishment of the U.S.’s goals in the region even more unlikely. The various sectors of the U.S. government who are working with the Karzai government on how best to convert Afghan’s ‘hearts and minds’ are undermined by the other sectors of the government who are unintentionally fanning the flames of militancy in the region by killing thousands of people who were civilians but alleged to be militants after the fact. Those who support the use of drones as an important counter-insurgency tactic nonetheless point out that the current campaign is not always conducted in the most effective manner.

The authors of “Sudden Justice” for example, argue that the campaign should be focused on ‘high value targets’ and not be used frequently to take down the lower level operatives. The more you can destroy and disrupt the activities of personnel in the Taliban and al-Qaeda from the top-down instead of the bottom-up, the more of an impact it will have. The leadership qualities, organizational skills, and strategic awareness of various high-level commanders in both the Taliban and al-Qaeda cannot be easily replaced after their deaths at the hands of U.S. drones.

Fricker and Plaw use the example of Baitullah Mehsud, a Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) leader who was killed by a drone strike on the roof of his uncle’s house on August 5, 2009. His death provoked an internal struggle in his organization that ultimately led to enough confusion and tension within the TTP that the Pakistan Army was able to launch the South Waziristan Offensive, putting the TTP on the defensive. But the lower level Taliban and Qaeda members have skills and abilities that are more common and more easily replaced. The amount of time and energy, the article asserts, that the U.S. is spending killing lower-level members (and increasing civilian casualties in the process, as the majority of the time these strikes happen during funeral processions or wedding parties) could instead be used to seriously disrupt the activities of the entire organization by targeting its leaders, much like the death of Osama bin Laden did to al-Qaeda in South/Central Asia in 2011.

David Rohde agrees that the drones should be used, as they are an effective and efficient way of disrupting and destroying the extremist power base there, but their usage should be both selective and surgical. 12 There is no consensus among scholars when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of the use of drones as a counter-insurgency tactic. As Hassan Abbas points out “the truth is we don’t know whether U.S. drone strikes have killed more terrorists or produced more terrorists.”13

4 CIA, “Pakistan,” The World Factbook
7 Zaidi, Syed Manzar. Hating the Taliban, Hating the United States: Trajectories of Pakistan’s Anti-Americanism (American Foreign Policy Interests 31: 376–388, 2009), 385.
8 Thomas, Gary, Analysis: Pakistan’s Parliament Takes Stand on US Ties (Voice of America: 16 April 2012), web. Accessed 10 May 2012.
9 Kramer, Stephen D, Talking Tough to Pakistan (Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb2012: 91, 1)
10 Fricker, Matthew and Avery Plaw. “Sudden Justice? Evaluating the US Predator Drone Campaign in Pakistan” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Theory vs. Policy? Connecting Scholars and Practitioners, New Orleans Hilton Riverside Hotel, The Loews New Orleans Hotel, New Orleans, LA, Feb 17, 2010 . 2012-12- 04
11 Williams, Glyn, Brian, “The CIA’s Covert Predator Drone War in Pakistan, 2004–2010: The History of an Assassination Campaign”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 33:871–892, 2010 (p. 878)
12 Rohde, David. “The Obama Doctrine How the President’s Drone War Is Backfiring.”Foreign Policy. Mar. 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2013. (p. 4)
13 Abbas, Hassan, “Are Drone Strikes Killing Terrorists or Creating Them?”

Hassan Masood

Hassan Masood is a Contracts professional with Tetra Tech International Development Services Energy Services group, where he currently implements the $60 million USAID-funded Sustainable Energy for Pakistan (SEP) project. Recipient of the 2013 Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society Best Paper Award (undergraduate).

View All Posts By Hassan Masood
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