Monday, March 23, 2009

Push-button executions from the skies

Drone attacks are continuing in northern Pakistan. While they have been successful in killing a number of militants, there has been significant collateral damage. Even if we set aside the legality issues, it is not clear if these attacks are achieving productive long-term goals. Yesterday's NYT had an article addressing this question, The Downside of Letting Robots Do the Bombing:
But in Pakistan, some C.I.A. veterans of the tribal battles worry that instead of separating the citizenry from the militants the drone strikes may be uniting them. These experts say they fear that killing militants from the sky won’t undermine, and may promote, the psychology of anti-American militancy that is metastasizing in the country.
Intelligence officials in Washington and Islamabad said it was nearly impossible to measure the impact of the strikes on the so-called “war of ideas.” Even when precise, the drone strikes often kill women and children in militant compounds. When that happens, local Pashtun customs of “badal” obligate their survivors to seek revenge.
In addition, these strikes are driving militants away from the border areas and into the major Pakistani cities. Quetta is just one of the examples. Its not clear to me what will be the strategy regarding the cities. If Pakistanis are angry at strikes in the tribal areas, it is not too difficult to asses the mood after a strike in a major city - where the collateral will also be high. Don't get me wrong. These militants have to defeated. But the question here is on the effectiveness of these drones in achieving long-term strategic goals. The article brought up another interesting point:

And then there is the matter of bravery. For his new book about the rise of robot warfare, “Wired for War,” P. W. Singer interviewed insurgents in the Muslim world who said that America’s reliance on drone weapons is a sign that the United States is afraid to sacrifice troops in combat.

This ought to be a particular concern now, Mr. Singer said, as the United States struggles to build alliances in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There, he said, trust is built by displays of personal bravery.

“If courage is the coin of the realm, then courage is what proves to the local Pashtun tribes that you are their allies,” he said. He cited the protest song, which he came across while researching his book.
Read the full article here. Also, hear this excellent two part NPR series on Pakistan's tribal areas and on the legality of the drone attacks. In case you have any doubts about the complexity of Pakistan's situation, here is an excerpt from an interview with Sufi Muhammad, the government-backed peacemaker in Swat - and the father-in-law of the militant leader Fazlullah, who is leading the insurgency in Swat (yes - please wrap your head around that too) (tip from Pakistaniat):

You said in a 2005 interview with us that what Al Qaeda and the Taliban are doing in Pakistan is haram. Are Fazlullah’s activities over the last sixteen months also haram?
Sufi Muhammad: Yes, I said that about Al Qaeda, but not about the Taliban. Let me say…that debate on past happenings is disallowed in Islam. A hadith sharif says, what has happened in the past should not be discussed.

But how can we proceed without debating the past?
The hadith sharif says a Muslim should not discuss past happenings because he may not remember all the [details] and, therefore, he may…sin by not speaking the truth.

A majority of Swat residents do not think the peace deal recently signed between the TNSM and the NWFP government will last long.
God Almighty does everything; he builds and destroys countries.

Residents also doubt whether peace is possible in the presence of armed Taliban.
Everyone keeps weapons. People in Peshawar have weapons with them.

You support keeping weapons?
Yes, you can keep weapons with you.

Did you ask Fazlullah to surrender weapons after the sharia law deal?
Keeping weapons is halal in Islam.

President Zardari said recently that force would be used if the Taliban do not surrender weapons in Swat.
His statement is childish…immature.

With sharia law in Swat, there will be a complete ban on music and girls’ education, and people will be forced to grow beards?
There are five subjects — judiciary, politics, economics, education and the executive. The judicial subject will be with us, the rest is beyond our control.

The Taliban are kidnapping government officials and killing soldiers, yet you still hold the army responsible for ceasefire violations.
Kidnapping cases are taking place all over the world. The military violated the ceasefire.

The military says some of its soldiers were shot dead while bringing water.
No. This is not the case. The soldiers were not killed near any stream.

Are soldiers moving freely in Swat after the peace deal?
No. The military cannot move freely unless peace is restored.

After peace is restored, will the army leave Swat?
This is Pakistan’s army and Swat is within Pakistan’s borders. I will have no objection if a military cantonment is established here.

Locals say innocent people have been killed. Will the aggrieved families be able to get justice?
I have told you already: we will not discuss what has happened in the past. Sharia law does not allow this.

If a court summons a key Taliban commander, will he appear before the court?
If Caliph Umar (RA) can appear before a court, then why can’t others?

So Fazlullah will also appear in court if summoned?
If he does not… he will be acting against the sharia law.

What you did in Malakand in the 1990s and then in Afghanistan in 2001 you called ‘jihad’. Are Fazlullah’s activities over the last 16 months in Swat also jihad?
I do not want to speak on this.

What are Fazlullah’s plans after the peace deal?
He will support imposition of sharia law.

You have termed democracy ‘infidelity’. But Maulana Sami-ul Haq, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Qazi Hussain Ahmad are taking part in the democratic process.
Democracy is not permissible in sharia law. I will not name [these leaders] but they are taking part in infidelity. I will not offer prayers if one of [these leaders] is leading those prayers.

Do you intend to export sharia law to other parts of Pakistan?
If people help me, I will. Otherwise, no.

Remember, he is supposed to be one of the "good" guys. This is the dude that the government sent to make the peace deal in Swat. Everything is going to be just fine....

Also see posts on Robots of War, Sharia in Swat, and on the bombing of schools in Swat.


Don said...

One would think that it might be better to have a negotiator who doesn't believe in Sharia law to negotiate with a group that wants the absolute imposition of Sharia law. Otherwise, it doesn't seem like there's much negotiation, as such, at all.

Unless I missed the point and the whole of Pakistan was originally under Sharia law in the first place, and so there was no actual conflict between the Taliban and the Pakistani government. But again, in that case, why call this a negotiation and not just business as usual?

It's incredibly frustrating that this was the man who was supposed to be making a deal, and then seems to agree with those who he went to make the deal with on every point. Wasn't there anyone else who could represent the Pakistani government?

Salman Hameed said...

Unless I missed the point and the whole of Pakistan was originally under Sharia law in the first place,
No - Pakistan has never been under Sharia. It is an "Islamic Republic" - but secular courts dominate the judicial system. There have been attempts to introduce sharia courts - but so far they have been successful only in the tribal areas (they already are quite autonomous from the federal government). Swat itself has a complicated history in this regard. But, the current arrangement, in effect, wipes out the federal judicial system in Swat.

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