By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
October 17, 2017, at least 11 suspected terrorists were killed when two United
States (US) drones fired six missiles on their hideouts in the mountainous
region of the Kurram Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA),
along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
October 16, 2017, at least 20 suspected terrorists were killed in a similar US
drone strike on another hideout in the same area. Four missiles were fired on a
compound during the strike, in which suspected terrorists of the Haqqani Network
were killed. According to media reports, the target of the attack was a Haqqani
Network 'commander', Abu Bakar, who was killed along with his accomplices.
September 15, 2017, three suspected terrorists were killed in a US drone attack
in the Charmanak area of the Kurram Agency. "A remotely-piloted US
aircraft fired two missiles at the home of Maulana Muhibullah," Kurram
Agency Political Agent Baseer Khan Wazir stated, adding, "The Maulana,
along with two others, was killed in the attack." Two Afghan Taliban
sources later confirmed that Muhibullah was affiliated with the Haqqani Network
"but wasn't a prominent figure".
to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the US has
carried out at least seven drone attacks inside Pakistan since the beginning of
the current year (2017) resulting in at least 48 fatalities (data till October
29, 2017). During the corresponding period of 2016, there were just three such
attacks, resulting in seven deaths. There were no further attacks through 2016.
first commenced drone strikes inside Pakistan on June 18, 2004, and has so far
carried out at least 330 such strikes, resulting in over 2,861 fatalities (data
till October 29, 2017).
Drone Attacks in
Source: SATP, *Data till October
was a steep and sustained decline in number of such attacks since 2011 after a
continuous escalation since 2008. Except for Washington's continuing flip-flop
'Pakistan policy' under former President Barrack Obama, there was nothing on
the ground to justify the down trend in such attacks since 2011, as Pakistan
continued to provide safe haven to Taliban and Haqqani network formations
operating across its borders into Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump assumed power in January 2017 and decided to
re-configure America's 'Pakistan Policy', drone attacks were expectedly
resumed. The first strike took place on March 2, 2017, killing two suspected
terrorists in a border village along the AfPak border in FATA's Kurram Agency.
Significantly, the last such attack had been recorded on May 21, 2016, in which
Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in the Kuchaki area of
Nushki District in Pakistan's Balochistan Province.
meantime, after almost six months of his Presidency, Trump announced his
"new integrated strategy for the U.S. approach to South Asia" on
August 21, 2017. In particular, the strategy outlined his approach to the
Afghanistan-Pakistan conundrum, projecting a radical redirection in the US
policy towards Pakistan. The policy statement observed,
next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach and how to deal with
Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist
organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region
and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in
Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and
surprisingly, there have been at least four reported drone attacks inside
Pakistani territory within a span of just 70 days since the declaration of the
new policy. A further surge in such attacks can be expected, as the US
continues to harden its position on Pakistan. Indeed, US Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson, who visited South Asia, between October 23-27, acknowledged on
October 26, 2017, that he had told the Pakistan Government that Washington
would implement its new strategy with or without Islamabad, because "this
is what we think is necessary. And if you don't want to do that, don't feel you
can do it, we'll adjust our tactics and our strategies to achieve the same
objective a different way."
increasingly inflexible US position, for the time being at least, has unnerved
Pakistan. Unlike earlier instances of Pakistani protests against drone strikes
as a violation of territorial integrity and sovereignty, this time the Pakistan
establishment has out rightly denied the strikes within its territory in order
to justify its claim that there are no terrorist safe havens within its
borders. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement released on
October 17, 2017, in the aftermath of October 16-17, drone attack thus claimed,
Operations are being conducted in Khost and Paktia, Afghanistan, by Resolute
Support Mission (RSM) / Afghan Forces, opposite Kurram Agency. During last 24
hours, number of Air engagements has taken place in those areas inside
Afghanistan with reports of heavy losses to Terrorists. As a follow up of COAS
[Chief of Army Staff] visit to Afghanistan, coordination between the forces has
enhanced. RSM timely shared details about the said operation within Afghan
territory. There has been no air violation along Pak-Afg border in that area or
any drone strike in Kurram Agency as being misreported by few.
civilian Government too made an attempt to argue that there are no terror safe
havens inside Pakistan, with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif sharing a
chart of drone attacks carried out over the past 12 years, from 2005 till
October 15, 2017, inside the Pakistani territory, and tweeting on October 25:
drone attacks chart. If we have sanctuaries why frequency is sharply down. US
won't hesitate attacking funeral, weddings to get targets.
charade of denials may serve a domestic political agenda, allowing the Army and
political leaderships in Pakistan to save face; however, it can only harden US
attitudes further, as there can be little doubt in Washington where its
precision strikes are hitting terrorist hideouts. Unless Islamabad executes an
unlikely and radical turnaround of its policies supporting terrorism - at least
across the border into Afghanistan - US drones are likely to strike targets in
Pakistan with rising frequency.
South Asia Intelligence Review