One country that doesn’t seem too happy to have Barack Obama continue in the White House is Pakistan, which the US had formally conferred the status of a ‘non-NATO ally’. It is not difficult to see why the Pakistanis are slightly worried. Pakistanis are under the impression that Republicans are more affable in terms of relations with Pakistan. Their hope was with Mitt Romney in the saddle, a sense of balance would be restored to the rocky relationship. That hope has been belied. Newspaper editorials are busy reconciling themselves, as one succinctly put it, to the “unhappy marriage of convenience—on conflict mitigation” and to increased drone strikes, which means increased violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The drones are flown out of bases in Afghanistan and controlled by CIA operatives in far away Langley, Virginia, and kill people in Pakistan. It will be an inconvenience when the elections come around in March; already Imran Khan has begun rallying voters around the drones.
Flag-makers seem to be celebrating, though. This is because the average Pakistani expresses his feelings by burning the US flag. The equation is, as one flag-maker explained, simple: “More Obama means more drones and more protests.” It is a demand and supply thing. The sweeping anti-Americanism is because people believe, among other things, that drones kill more civilians than militants.
The precise numbers of the deaths by drones are not known but one organisation, the New America Foundation, estimates that between 1,908 and 3,225 people have been killed by the CIA in the drone attacks since they began in 2004. Because information is so scarce, one ballpark ratio says 10 civilians die to every single militant in these attacks. US policy-makers see it this way: all those hanging around terrorists who are targeted are obviously in some way linked fraternally and if they get killed collaterally, just as well. In fact, the head of CIA’s counter-terrorism division was quoted by the Washington Post as exulting: “We are killing these sons of bitches faster than they can grow them.” It is an indication that to the American mind, practically everybody they were killing were ‘terrorists’. More drone attacks could herd the militants into crowded cities such as Karachi, which would complicate matters further.
Drones are politically inconvenient to Pakistanis but, for the moment, they live with the reality. For one, it keeps Pakistani soldiers out of the line of militant fire while the American killing machines do the dirty job from up high. But Americans no longer rely on Pakistani inputs for targeting, or for getting a clearer picture of the ground reality and assets. After the Raymond Davies episode, it came to light that the Americans had breached the red lines set by Pakistan and were running their own human intelligence assets inside Pakistan. The schism became even wider when Osama bin Laden was taken out without Pakistanis being kept in the loop.
Yet, as Obama prepares to pull his troops out of Afghanistan by 2014, it remains to be seen what kind of a deal he is able to work out with Pakistan so the drawdown goes off smoothly without too many casualties. It will likely be a political accommodation, a temporary truce of sorts, involving the Taliban, of course.