Thaw in Pak-US relations
Mohammad Jamil


After the US tendered apology over NATO air strikes on Salala check posts, there has been key development vis-ŗ-vis thaw in Pak-US ties. According to a report in English daily chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam will visit the US soon, as the visit has already been approved by the government. It will be the first visit by the army chief or an intelligence chief to the US after the 2nd May 2011 when the US Marines had conducted operation at Abbottabad compound, showing utter disregard to international law and Pakistanís sovereignty.

The ISI chief will meet his US counterpart, Director Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus and other senior American officials to discuss matters related to counter-terrorism cooperation. The sources stated that Lt-General Islam will also focus on unilateral drone attacks by the US and press for their cessation. There is hope that the meeting between two spy-masters would be fruitful, and it will be the first step to normalize relations between Pentagon and Pakistan military.

DG ISI may ask his counterpart to provide strategic and technical intelligence input obtained through drones/Unmanned Arial Vehicles so that Pak can take action against the terrorists. Though America had in the past refused to transfer drone technology, DG ISI is poised to discuss possibility of transfer of drone technology and capacity building of Pakistani forces. It has to be mentioned that civil and military leaderships are on the same page so far as drone attacks are concerned. Lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam is committed to follow the guidelines given by the Parliament; it is therefore for sure he would to say no to drone attacks and no to US troops on ground. However, it is yet to be seen whether the US will shun its arrogance, see reason and stop drone attacks, or would it risk plummeting of relations that could be detrimental to the interests of the US as well as Pakistan. It has to be mentioned that after Salala incident, relations between US and Pakistan had touched the lowest ebb, and there was closure of ground line of communication for seven months.

The sentencing of Dr Shakil Afridi, the man who helped the US locate Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, in Pakistan also became another bone of contention. The US had reacted strongly to the sentencing of Dr. Afridi for running a fake polio vaccination drive, which was really meant to hunt down Bin Laden. As a result of this fake campaign, genuine and critical polio vaccination drives have suffered a number of setbacks in Pakistan since the sting operation Ė with many high-risk areas becoming off limits for vaccinators. There has been some let up in Americaís pressure; it has perhaps understood that Dr. Afridi has been sentenced according to the law of the land. Of course, there are other areas where Pakistan and the US have to discuss and reconcile, and Pakistan will ask the US to address Pakistanís concerns and stop touting greater role for India in post-drawdown era i.e. 2014. These irritants have to be removed for a strong ties between the US and Pakistan.

As regard drone attacks, American civil and military leaders have been creating confusion, first by conveying an impression that attacks are being carried out with the nod from Pakistan government. Such statements paint Pakistan government, military and intelligence agencies in bad light. In keeping with desire and aspirations of the people, Pakistanís political; military and intelligence leaderships have been on the same page so far as non-acceptance of drone strikes is concerned. They have repeatedly asserted that unilateral drone strikes have proved counter-productive and result in stoking anti-American feelings on one hand and tend to create sympathy for the terrorists. These attacks are in violation of international law; they undermine Pakistanís sovereignty and tarnish the image of Armed Forces of Pakistan. However, Pakistan is carefully treading the risky road, as it is not a matter of dealing with the super power but with 49 NATO countries.

According to sources, the ISI chief will discuss the possibility of the transfer of drone technology and capacity building of Pakistani forces. They also held that he will reject any Ďwink-and-nodí offers from the US in terms of drone strikes and US boots on the ground. The ISI chief will focus on a new mechanism to ensure Pakistanís input on drone strikes. In fact, drone attacks raise important ethical and legal questions - questions that have long been debated by proponents and critics alike. Obama administration insists that drone strikes have resulted in few civilian casualties, but the available evidence suggests that civilian casualties from drone strikes are substantial. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported between 2,464 and 3,145 fatalities from drone attacks in Pakistan, of which 482 to 830 have been civilians. According to the New America Foundation, estimated civilian fatalities range from 293 to 471, which seem to have been downplayed.

Though the US conveys an impression that Pakistan government had given the nod, yet the functionaries of the previous government claimed that Pakistan had never given the U.S. carte blanche over drone use. There was perhaps an understanding with the previous government that prior to any strike Pakistan would be informed before hand. But the CIA did not deem it necessary to take Pakistan into confidence. The CIA did not trust Pakistan taking the plea that once the CIA had informed Pakistan about an ammunition factory in FATA and that Pakistan leaked the information and the terrorists vacated the premises.

But this was a lame excuse and a ploy, as there was no ammunition factory at the venue suggested by the CIA. Anyhow, according a recent poll 97 percent of Pakistanis polled outside of FATA have said drone strikes are a bad thing, 76 percent of people in FATA opposed them. Having all said, before constructive dialogue can take place, misconceptions need to be cleared-up and some clear distinctions in definitions and opinion must be made.