ISLAMABAD: After an unanticipated long break, the American CIA resumed its controversial drone programme in Pakistan’s restive North Waziristan tribal region raising concerns among its critics whether Islamabad has given a tacit go-ahead for fresh strikes.
Foreign militants present in North Waziristan are the primary targets of the Pakistani military, and coincidentally, of the latest CIA driven drone campaign. Criticism on collateral damage notwithstanding, Pakistani air force jets were reluctantly employed during the past weeks to take out militant hideouts in tribal areas. The latest drone strikes having repute of precision and accuracy, however, come on the heels of a mass exodus from North Waziristan amid fears of a military operation.
The Pakistani military has lately given a deadline of June 20 to local tribesmen to make sure foreign militants abandon their long held safe havens in North Waziristan — the region which faced the recent drone strikes in which at least 16 suspected militants are said to have been killed in two separate attacks. Security officials said that six suspected militants were killed when missiles struck a compound and a nearby vehicle believed to be of suspected militants in the Darga Mandi area on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, locals and intelligence sources said that eight missiles were fired on a compound in Dande Darpa Khel near Miran Shah, the headquarters of North Waziristan, killing 10 suspected militants.
The timing of these strikes is crucial. It came after three days of the most daring assault by the Pakistani Taliban on Karachi’s international airport that left 37 persons dead, including the 10 attackers of Uzbek origin. The targets in these strikes, intelligence sources said, were Uzbek militants. It would be difficult to confirm whether the strikes were being secretly requested by Pakistan but observers believe that security officials would be happy with the killing of battle-hardened Uzbek fighters since their comrades wreaked havoc for several hours at a most sensitive installation in country’s commercial hub of Karachi.
As usual, Islamabad condemned the attacks calling it a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. But officials in Islamabad are known to condemn the strikes in public while condoning them in private. Pakistan had allegedly allowed the drones to operate from Shamsi Air base in Baluchistan until 21 April 2011. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the former army chief, according to secret diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks, not only tacitly agreed to the drone flights over its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but in 2008 had requested the Americans to increase its frequency. In the past, militants had always reacted violently to drone strikes by targeting important government installations and security personnel to settle scores. They believe that it occurs with Pakistan’s consent, and analysts fear that violence across Pakistani cities would increase with resumption of the drone war. Although, drone attacks have proved effective in eliminating the top leadership of Al Qaeda and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from the tribal areas, but the strikes are deeply unpopular among the general public and some major political parties. Imran Khan-led PTI is at the forefront campaigning to create global awareness about the killing of innocent civilians in US drone attacks. The Peshawar High Court has also ruled against the strikes as illegal, inhumane, violating UN charter on human rights and constituting a war crime. But Washington disagrees, saying that the drones do not violate the international law and that the attacks are carried out with precision and accuracy.
The frequency of drone strikes surged in 2011 and 2012 but scaled down in 2013. The last known drone strike took place on Dec 25, 2013. The latest strikes were the first to happen in 2014. Although, the US did not announce to abandon its Drone operations, but PM’s advisor on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz had said that Washington had assured Islamabad to halt drone strikes as long as the government was pursuing peace talks with Taliban. Pakistan’s government has not yet formally renounced the peace talks, but the initiative lately ended in a deadlock. Following Sunday’s carnage at Karachi airport, the PM, his aides said, has a given a nod to army chief Raheel Sharif to prepare for a ground offensive in North Waziristan against the Pakistani Taliban.
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