This past Tuesday, Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani ambassador to Washington, declared the CIA drone program in Pakistan a “red line,” insisting that “Pakistan does not privately okay drone strikes inside Pakistan.” Rehman was quoted as saying “I can assure you there is no quiet complicity in this, there is no question of a wink and a nod…”
Furthermore, Rehman contended: “We are all on the same page now, members of the general staff and ourselves, on where the future of this lies. Pakistan has to take ownership of all anti-terror operations, absolutely all of them, in order to be sustainable and to be seen as legitimate in the eyes of our people” [emphasis own].
The nature of Pakistan’s complicity in US drone strikes in the region is not entirely clear-cut. The US has justified drone strikes in that region on the basis of Pakistan having tacitly given them the green-light to proceed with drone strikes. In one of Wikileaks’s infamous cable leaks, Pakistani General and Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani is reported to have requested the US “grant or loan” drones to Pakistan, while sustaining its ongoing Predator-drone coverage of Waziristan. And with regards to the Pakistani military apparatus, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations describes how:
The CIA and U.S. military also cooperate with their Pakistani counterparts to collect human and signals intelligence to identify and track suspected militants. In addition, the Pakistani army clears the airspace for U.S. drones, and when they inadvertently crash, Pakistani troops have repeatedly fought the Taliban to recover the wreckage.
Meanwhile, different elements of Pakistan’s government have all joined in chorus to condemn and demand an end to US drone strikes, including the Pakistani parliament, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and even the director of the Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The government of Pakistan has good reason to oppose the US drone strikes, besides their obvious violation of the former’s sovereignty. The drone strikes have severely undermined the already-shaky legitimacy of the Pakistani government in the eyes of its people, as alluded to in Rehman’s statement above. As explained by Fred Branfman:
…as a result of [US] drone strikes, we are destabilizing the government of Pakistan to the point where The New York Times has speculated that it could be a military coup by anti-U.S. junior military officers in Pakistan, which…has nuclear weapons. We’re so worried about Iran someday requiring nuclear weapons, but in Pakistan we’re running the risk that people who hate us could take over the government there. [Moreover] our enemies are actually increasing in number. The Pakistan Taliban is not only four to five times larger, but the Pakistani intelligence agency about a year ago issued a report saying that there were a bigger threat to Pakistan than ever.
According to Branfman, this potentially catastrophic threat is further exacerbated by the Pakistani government’s refusal to cooperate with the US on the issue of nuclear proliferation or safeguarding Pakistan’s existing nuclear stockpile. Citing research from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Branfman adds that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is the “fastest-growing” and “least-secure” of any in the world.
The reason for Pakistan’s continued intransigence? The US’s alienation of the Pakistani people – a process greatly accelerated by continuing and highly unpopular drone strikes in the region.
According to a Pew Research poll released in June of 2012, a mere 17% of Pakistanis support US drone strikes, and an overwhelming 74% of Pakistanis view the US as an enemy state. That same survey reveals Pakistani disdain for current president Asif Ali Zardari to be at an all time high (reflecting the shaky foundations of the administration), with a mere 14% of respondents reporting favourable views of Zardari. In contrast, 70% of respondents had a favorable view of Imran Khan, who led an anti-drone protest in October of last year.