A week after the 16-day government shutdown had ended Obama Administration’s pledge last Wednesday to release $1.6 billion in aid to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and continuing the controversial drone attacks in northwest Pakistan will leave negative long term ramifications for America. Despite the current media frenzy regarding a recent Amnesty International report released on October 22 based on case studies through field research on civilian casualties of U.S. drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, The State Department has blocked a visa for Shahzad Akbar, the attorney representing drone victims who arrived in Washington this weekend upon invitation by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) to speak at a Congressional hearing. The blocking of Pakistani human rights lawyer’s visa just a few days after the U.S. government pledged billions to the country’s Prime Minister is not just alarming and unethical but represents a major flaw in U.S. policy toward the region.
Majority of Pakistanis have grown increasingly angry and blame the corrupt elite for accepting U.S. aid in return for signing off on the illegal drones in their country while publicly condemning them. As the U.S. and NATO forces plan withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, for which they need Pakistan’s land route to carry out heavy equipment, the U.S. drone strikes being carried out in northwest Pakistan are multiplying terrorist recruitment, are increasing the chances of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, and pose a serious threat that can haunt America in the long run. While the aim of U.S. foreign policymakers has been to implement strategies that prevent future terrorist attacks like 9/11, the predator drone warfare is doing the exact contrary: it is counterproductive and it is creating more terrorists.
Proponents of U.S. drone strikes taking place in northwest Pakistan argue that the drones exclusively target and kill high-level Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. However, according to the recent Amnesty report, the drone program which is highly classified causes indiscriminate and disproportionate civilian casualties leading to widespread fear and anger against America. The ‘double tap’ tactics, which strike first responders by attacking the same target numerous times, have caused anti-American outrage among the Pakistani masses that learn of these inhumane incidents from survivors. The United Nations has declared the drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the tactics of targeted killings a violation of human rights and a war crime.
Even the former Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who became one of the highest-ranking officials to openly censure drone strikes said during an interview with Reuters last January, “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."
Instead of containing terrorists, the illegal and immoral drone warfare has increased extremist recruiting that can destabilize Pakistan and in the long term can target the U.S. American foreign policy makers need to learn lessons from our Cold War mistakes of producing jihadists and leaving Afghanistan. Since the start of the current war in Afghanistan over a decade ago, we have multiplied the number of those jihadists in Pakistan and again are planning to leave in 2014 without finishing our job.
One viable long-term solution for the U.S. is to engage in dialogue with the local tribal people and take them into confidence instead of carrying out the inhumane drone strikes. In order to end the war in Afghanistan successfully and to keep Pakistan’s nuclear weapons out of hands of extremists, there is an urgent need to start an open debate in America as regards peaceful alternatives to drone warfare in order to achieve permanent containment of terrorism. Otherwise, we continuously risk being attacked by terrorists we are creating, which will be far more costly. We also need to open all channels of communication with drone victims, their lawyers, and human rights organizations working with survivors of American drone attacks for Americans to become fully aware of what our government is doing abroad. The billions of American taxpayers’ dollars squandered on corrupt elite which never reach the poor are best invested in healthcare, education, and economy at home for our own long term sustainability.
Mehreen is pursuing a Masters in Public Administration at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She has worked for several NY City based non-profits and holds a B.A. in Journalism from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @MehreenSaeed