Obama didn't even mention "drones" when talking to the media after his meeting with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. So is it all Islamabad's fault? Not really.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hit his meeting with US President Barack Obama in the White House with an overwhelming priority; please, Mr. President, stop your drone war in my country.
Behind closed doors this Wednesday, Sharif may have stressed that Hellfire missile logic made no sense even under the wobbly framework of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) -- which the Obama administration, in trademark newspeak, has rebranded Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). He may have said OCO-enabled droning is in fact the biggest obstacle to peace in Pakistan.
This is the official White House spin on what Sharif and Obama discussed. It's not exactly uplifting. The droning is scheduled to go on. Obama didn't mention "drones" when talking to the media; only vague platitudes about "respecting Pakistan's sovereignty" and telling Sharif that he should "check these incidents inside Pakistan and stop the export of terrorism." But this does not mean Islamabad blew the meeting.Double tap and hang five
Just before the Obama-Sharif summit, Amnesty International released a devastating report not only questioning the trademark Obama administration legalese supporting the drone attacks on Pakistan's tribal areas, but also stating the obvious; those responsible -- from joystick operators in the Nevada desert to the White House -- may have to stand trial for war crimes.
And this is not even the most damning report already published. Compare it to the September 2012 joint investigation by Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law, Living Under Drones, which concluded that only 2% of those incinerated by a Hellfire missile were "terrorists." Many were victims of the dreaded "double tap" -- the second strike that invariably kills scores of civilian onlookers and rescue workers.
Miram Shah, in the Pakistani tribal areas, only 16 kilometers from the Afghan border, qualifies as the drone capital of the world. In Miram Shah, Hellfire missiles have incinerated, among others, a bakery, a school for girls and a foreign currency market. The Pakistani Army disabled the local cell network, and the Taliban closed Internet cafes; too many young guns watching porn. The Obama administration maintains the Hellfire feast is "surgical" and "contained" -- and has killed "dozens" of al-Qaeda and Taliban. To Sharif, Obama at best admitted "mistakes were made."
Sharif, in principle, holds a strong position in Pakistan's National Assembly, mostly representing the powerful, heavily populated Punjab (which, incidentally, most of the Pakistani Army comes from). He has called an "all parties conference" to try to solve Pakistan's terrorism dilemma. That implies talking to the Taliban.
The leader of the Taliban (or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, to give the organization its full name), Hakimullah Mehsud, has made it very clear where he is coming from.
Essentially, the Taliban regards Islamabad as a bunch of infidels, and American stooges to boot; that's why they are at war. It's as if Mehsud had had access to this report, according to which Islamabad has "secretly" backed the CIA drone offensive.
Pakistani security personnel examine a crashed American surveillance drone some two kilometres inside Pakistani territory in the town of Chaman in the insurgency-hit Baluchistan province, on August 25, 2011. (AFP Photo/Asghar Achakzai)
What the Taliban wants is Sharia law which, by the way, the absolute majority of Pakistan's population rejects. To make it even more complicated, no one knows for sure if the Taliban (which denies it) or some rogue faction is behind a recent wave of suicide and car bombings, including a horrific attack on Qissa Khwani bazaar -- the Storyteller's Market -- in Peshawar, the queen of Pashtun cities.
The fact remains that what's happening now is just a prelude of the jockeying for position ahead of the US alleged withdrawal from Afghanistan in late 2014.
After meeting with Sharif, Obama's cryptic emphasis of being "confident" of a solution "that is good for Afghanistan, but also helps to protect Pakistan over the long term" only obfuscates what is already an intractable question. The simplistic logic in Washington is that "stability" in Pakistan after 2014 will "protect" Afghanistan from becoming a jihadist paradise again.
At the same time, Washington and Islamabad dream of some sort of power-sharing between whoever succeeds Hamid Karzai in Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. And that would make the Afghanistan-Pakistan cross-border jihad magically vanish.
What this rosy scenario forgets is that the key issue is not jihad, but what the armed Pashtuns on both sides of the artificial, British-invented border want.
The Afghan Taliban want to get back to power (and may have quite a good shot at it). The Pakistani Taliban want Sharia law (it won't happen) and don't have the slightest chance of getting to power. As for the US "managing" what goes on simultaneously in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that's the biggest joke of the 21st century.
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