Wake up Pakistan! This is your war

Published: November 14, 2012

Pakistan must either acknowledge that it cannot win the war of aggressive counter-terrorism without international help or come to terms with its militant extremists. PHOTO: REUTERS

Pakistan is out of step with the rest of the world – a recent poll showed it was the only country to prefer Romney over Obama and is now proved to be on “the wrong side of history”.  Obama’s win on November 6 for a second term has been recognised by every country but Pakistan as a historic decision that is good for the peace and security of the Middle East. 

The international community has welcomed the election result with much relief as, unlike his Republican opponent, ex- Governor Romney, President Obama will not engage in unilateral military action and will not confront China aggressively over its currency. Instead, Obama will continue to pursue his current cautious policy of pragmatic, multilateral diplomacy, disengaging from Afghanistan and paying close attention to the global financial crisis.

Pakistan seems to be out of step also with the Arab Spring movement, where people are recognising that corrupt and autocratic governments are the real enemy – not the US for sending aid which all too often props up the government instead of going to the people where it’s needed. To judge the US by its military interventions is too hasty – when the blame should lie with the government which requested it, condones it and professes to reflect the will of the electorate.

The CIA drone operations in Pakistan appal every person of conscience and the loss of civilian life does not justify the objective of ridding the frontier area of extremist violence. It isn’t working and the killing of leaders only seems to create new leaders with a more entrenched commitment to violent revenge. The intensity with which the US is hated and blamed for these deaths is disproportionate when it is compared with the civilian deaths caused by the Taliban and its allies within Pakistan.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has estimated that between 474 and 881 civilians have been killed in drone strikes between 2004 and 2012. Compare this with the Institute of Conflict Management’s assessment of 44,400 deaths in Pakistan from 2003-2012 comprising 14,600 civilians, 4,700 military forces and 25,000 terrorists and insurgents.  In the balance of justice, the civilian deaths caused by drones are far outweighed by the death tolls from indiscriminate suicide bombs and insurgent attacks.  The CIA at least tries to use sophisticated intelligence to strike at named, high-value terrorists, military training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.  The random slaughter of people waiting for a bus or doing their daily marketing seems infinitely more shocking.

However, there is no doubt that the CIA drone program has become a symbol of American military power, by ignoring national sovereignty and killing innocent civilians. Worse still, it has established a precedent for other countries who will now wish to use drone technology to cross borders to kill enemies.

By focusing on the drones deaths and blaming the USA, it makes it easier for the Pakistani media to ignore the fact that Pakistan is at war with its own people. Pakistan must either acknowledge that it cannot win the war of aggressive counter-terrorism without international help or come to terms with its militant extremists.

Pakistan-US relations need re-calibration and it would be to Pakistan’s advantage if people would stop blindly hating the US and be more discriminating. They will find it is not President Obama, but the remnants of the old guard, the neo-cons and the generals who have made a case for counter-terrorism using drones. By following their advice, the President has proved conclusively that the Democrats are not “soft on terror” as the Republicans liked to portray them and now he no longer has to prove this to get re-elected, it is to be hoped that he will review policy and continue to scale back and eventually cease the drone program.

This will give voters in Pakistan the chance to question their own government’s role in prolonging the conflict. It is very much Pakistan’s war, and the military needs to be reminded of that. Pakistan’s leaders need to consider the alternatives if the US withdrew all military action and aid. As the NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving a resurgent Taliban with destructive and self-destructive capabilities, Pakistan may well regret its cavalier response to US intentions.

As the next election approaches in 2013, Pakistanis need to give some thought to new regional and international alliances that best serve the country’s economic interests. The country cannot stand alone against the rest of world opinion and potential leadership is aware of this.  Imran Khan, probably Pakistan’s next Prime Minister, is very aware that the present government is more beholden to the US than to its own people. His populist calls for an end to the CIA drone program may well help get him elected, but he knows that what the people really want and need is a radical change of government, an end to corruption and bureaucratic incompetence and a turn around for a state on the edge of failure.

Given the enormity of the task, Imran Khan would be wise to use all the help he can get. He is much more likely to get assistance from President Obama in the next four years, than from a Republican administration if Romney had won. Obama was on the right side of history when he supported Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans against their despotic and corrupt leaders. His policy has been described as pragmatic multilateralism rather than the “nation-building” of past administrations, and regional security is becoming the responsibility of other countries and associations rather than relying on a US military presence. Obama is showing the restraint, foresight and maturity that has been absent in US foreign policy for too long, and while not by any means retreating into isolationism, the US will act with greater forbearance, restraint and hopefully, generosity for the next four years.

Obama also recognises that the US has been unable to replace the Taliban with a viable democratic government in Afghanistan and that civil conflict in that country will continue indefinitely. As NATO troops are withdrawn and Afghanistan is left with its own security forces to maintain order, Pakistan’s responsibility for its border will become more critical. Without a military solution, the next government will have to undertake some serious diplomacy if it is to end the killing in the border areas.  Pakistan cannot keep blaming the US for its failure to bring lasting peace to the area and would be wise to keep the Obama administration as a friend and partner instead of fabricating a media war against the US.

Another candidate aspiring to lead his Muslim country, Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia, sent a congratulatory message to President Obama, urging the president to fulfil the pledges he made some four years ago in Cairo.

“After all, freedom, democracy and Justice are not aspirations confined to the Middle East but are universal aspirations which are desired equally in Southeast Asia.”

With Iraq and soon, Afghanistan, behind it, US foreign policy will turn more toward Southeast Asia over the next four years, giving Pakistan room hopefully, to reflect, reconsider, recalibrate and move on to a better and more just future.

Read more by Azeem here or follow him on Twitter@AzeemIbrahim


Azeem Ibrahim

An International Security and Geopolitics Lecturer at the University of Chicago. Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a former Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and World Fellow at Yale. He is the Strategic Policy Advisor to Imran Khan and he tweets as @AzeemIbrahim (twitter.com/AzeemIbrahim)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • kanwal

    But its beyond me how Imran khan is going to do all that you say. His stances on terrorism, corruption, and foreign policy are so vague . H he is reluctant to even denounce terrorists out of fear. How will he stop the tife of militancy emeging in every second mosque out there. His policies are so devoid of detail they run me mad. I am utterly lost as to how he will accomplish anything. I think he is going to prove a huge disappoitment for the youth. Recommend

  • Pessimist

    I was also surprised when polls, don’t know their authenticity, described Pakistan as favoring Republicans. Do the people not know it was a Republican regime which started the Afghanistan war? Do they not know the Republican regime first used drone strikes? Do they not know a Republican regime would have bombed Iran by the new year if it were elected? Unfortunately it is a case of short term memory.

    Drones are a tricky subject. There is no doubt that innocent lives are lost in these attacks, but reports also show terrorists, including foreign ‘jihad’ fighters, are also killed in the attacks. Unless Pakistan takes some action against them, the USA will continue these strikes. Rather than blame the USA, Pakistan needs to do something itself. Also, I honestly don’t think USA carries out these strikes without permission from somebody in the Pakistan government. It’s simple common sense!

    It is known for a fact that Imran Khan would initiate a dialogue with these people. I don’t like this one bit, but it’s better to do something than nothing. Maybe when Imran Khan realizes that he’s dealing with a bunch of idiots, his position might change. Who knows?Recommend

  • Pakistani

    99% of the ppl killed in drones are innocent civilians majority of them women and childern, the author is advocating that drones are okay, brilliant!Recommend

  • Reluctant Fundamentalist

    War on terror or war on error is the question…!!! Recommend

  • Lams

    Agreed that Pakistan can’t blame the US or any country for ALL it’s problems but these ‘home grown terrorists’ didn’t exist before the messy war at our border dragging Pakistan in to it as well! There is so much more to politics and international relations agendas than meets the eye that regular people like you and I can’t understand it’s complexities and secret alliances/deals.Recommend

  • http://www.officialnews.pk Tabhis Gohar

    No, we can blame to US because the militants are prepared by their drone attacks, by their war in Afghanistan by using Pakistan’s boarder. What about the innocents who were attacked by US army and still some innocents people are getting kill by US drones. In my opinion mainly US is responsible for these militant activists then some internal Pakistani’s are also responsible for these activists.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Somewhat long and rambling. Our worst enemy is ourselves – when we realise this simple fact we will porgress.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Compare this with the Institute of Conflict Management’s assessment of 44,400 deaths in Pakistan from 2003-2012 comprising 14,600 civilians, 4,700 military forces and 25,000 terrorists and insurgents. These numbers are really strange – I am assuming that the 14,600 civlians were killed in suicide bombings and sectarian killings, where one terrorist kills many (hardly likely to be a 1-to-1 mapping) – so is the death toll ratio 1:5 in the army vs insurgents? If that is the case, even deploying another 50 – 60k soldiers should be able to mop up the rest, so why is the military so hesitant to broaden the engagement and rid the country of the menace once and for all?Recommend

  • Pakistani in US

    Aren’t you strategic policy advisor for PTI? I agree with lot of what you said. But the title and tone of this article seems to be in direct contract to what IK advocates for. Are you saying that PTI accepts now that this is indeed “our” war?Recommend

  • Ahsan Nisar

    The ‘war on terror‘ and ‘promoting democracy‘ are the 21st century equivalents of the 19th century British gobbledygook. American Neo-colonialism purveys them as moral justification and uses as political cover for intervening and, where necessary, invading resource-rich and strategic countries to overthrow nationalist leaders, install puppet regimes and ravage the countries’ wealth. And of course, the US is by far the most powerful terrorist force. But the American War in Afghanistan has turned out to be an amazing circus of military ineptitude. NATO’s problem in Afghanistan is how to get out without losing too much face. In this scenario, US needed a scapegoat and who else could be a better one than Pakistan.

    Oil lies at the center of the War on (T)error. Failure to recognize this and its full implications has distracted and muddled our thinking and debates into “smoke screen” issues. The real objective of the US is to achieve complete military domination over oil resources and routes. The latest estimate of the US spending on “oil wars” is around $2-2.5 trillion. One has to be completely blind to believe that the US is spending this amount just to fight terrorism or bring democracy in Iraq & Afghanistan. In its pursuit of achieving military primacy, the US has devastated Iraq & Afghanistan. Now, Pakistan is in danger of becoming a “collateral damage” of the US pursuit of global energy control and military domination if Pakistan Army continues to fight its so-called “war on (t)error”. This war has brought Pakistan to the greatest crisis since 1971, a crisis that can result in the disintegration or Balkanization of Pakistan.

    The people of Pakistan will not tolerate foreign hegemony under any circumstances. On the basis of the self-same logic, they would never agree to an internal hegemony by any institution of the state. The two hegemonies compliment each other. If our people meekly submit to internal hegemony, they will have to submit to external hegemony. This is so because the strength and power of external hegemony is far greater than that of internal one. If the people are too terrified to resist the weaker force, it is not possible for them to resist the stronger force. Thus the acceptance of internal hegemony means surrender to external hegemony.

    Fear is no policy, surrender is not an option.

    William Francis Butler once said,

    “The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.”

    I think that the major cause of instability in Pakistan is the American led War on (T) error. Our government should revisit its foreign policy and rely more on regional strategic partners like China and Iran. I think that the US should leave the treachery of aiding us on the face and stabbing us at our backs. It’s time to let them know that we will not tolerate any foreign interventions, in any form whatsoever at all. If a country like Iran could flout sanctions, why couldn’t we? In my opinion, our first step should be to tactfully wiggle out of this alliance by clearly shifting our stance from “Do more” to “No more”.Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Lams: “‘home grown terrorists’ didn’t exist before the messy war at our border dragging Pakistan in to it as well”

    Terrorists did exist before the messy war, but Pakistan used them to terrorize Afghanis and Indians. Pakistan trained all these terrorists. Pakistan is the father of talibans. Pakistan army/ISI stopped talibans from handing over Osama Bin Laden to USA. This war on terrorism is a money making machine for Pakistan.Recommend

  • M.Ahmer Ali

    Unfortunately we are fighting the US’ war within Pakistan on the commandments of Pakistani leaders’ world master USA only for $$$$$$$$ as the beggary and aids like the obedient slaves not Pakistan’s war…. Recommend

  • Virkaul

    @M.Ahmer Ali: Pakistan is not fighting America’s war, it is Pakistan’s war as well that is being fought in phase II. Pakistan willingly participated in the war against Soviet Union to liberate Afghanistan when US offered them dollars. There were two benefits for this choice. Dollars, arms, proxy war using Mujahideens and finally creating strategic depth for using them against India after the war. After ouster of Russians, Pakistan had it’s deep pockets full, complete control of Afghanistan through Taliban and mujahids for deployment on it’s Eastern border. Unfortunately, 9/11 turned tables. US got involved in it’s war on terror and threatened Pakistan of bombing it to stone age, if it did not support it.
    The Pak establishment plays double game, extracts compensation from NATO, and helps NATO selectively. Good Taliban and bad Taliban were it creation. But now it has got entangled into a bigger mess of fighting TTP, sectarian violence, target killings, Baloch insurgency, KPK turbulence, Shia killings, etc. It is in a civil war. I doubt if elections would be held next year.
    Please don’t remain in self denial as it will not solve problems.Recommend

  • Clear Black File

    How much do you know about the US’ war within Pakistan because whenever Pakistan wants to stop war or wants to negotiate with the Taliban (in your language terrorists) then US’ leaders always interfere in that peace talks/negotiations and threaten Pakistan that if Pakistan doesn’t conduct any military operation against them the aid shall be blocked and Pakistan may face the US’ sanctions in any means and manifestations……
    This is why Pakistan is fighting US’ war within Pakistan……Recommend

  • akt

    Accept the truth or be prepared to be ruled by Taliban and their Shariya . It is up to Pakistan to decide her destiny . The war against terrorism is not going to end even after withdrawl . Pak army has to come forward to save the sovereignity of the state otherwise many stake holders are there to take the side of northern allience and govt. Of Afghanistan .Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The author is on wrong side of history. Obama has experienced defeat at the hands of Resistance in the Pashtun land, lost the life of an American Ambassador in living memory, and ruining the economy of the land which is now on dole, thanks to chinese and the Saudis.

    Let Pakistan Govt obtain their wealth from the swiss and malaysian banks and follow what france and germany are doing and start a cultural revolution to rely on self help.

    Sooner or later the people must rid themselves of the colonial mentality of relying on others.

    Rex Minor Recommend