I am a good sleeper. A paragraph in a new book “The Thistle and The Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” by Prof. Akbar Ahmed gave me a couple of sleepless nights. Moreover, set me thinking about 2014.
Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington D.C. He is an internationally acclaimed anthropologist, an administrator and diplomat by training. He has been Pakistan’s Ambassador in the United Kingdom and has spent long years as administrator in Waziristan and Balochistan and as a student in Mohand tribal areas. This book is third in the series of books that he has written about ‘troubled relations’ between the Muslim World and the United States after 9/11. In this column, I have written a bit in detail about two of his earlier books Journey into Islam and Journey into America, immediately after the Brooking Institution published these.
For the past couple of days, I have been reading his third book strictly speaking not for reviewing it – for doing that one needs to have deeper understanding of the Muslim tribal societies in Pakistan and couple of other countries but for sharing ideas of the author with readers of this column. The book has been acclaimed as one of the best on the subject and has got ravishing reviews across the globe. The 425-page book published in India by Harper Collins in paperback and priced at Rs.599 provides a deeper insight into the sufferings of the tribal areas of Pakistan because of the drone strikes. And how the United States has failed to ‘recognize defiance’ of these societies and appreciate their idea of honor, dignity and revenge. Telling us how the drone became symbol of America’s war on terror, he very subtly suggests us how people living on the periphery in the Muslim World have become to the United States as ‘flies to wanton boys to be killed for a sport.’ Leon Pantene, the CIA Director later Secretary of Defense referred the drones as the only game. And by 2012, America had commissioned just under 20,000 drones, about half of which were in use.. There have been talks about new generation of “nuclear powered drones.’ Akbar writes, “Ignoring the moral debate, drone operators are equally infatuated with the weapon and the sense of power it gives them. It leaves them “electrified” and “adrenalized” – flying a drone is said to be almost like playing the computer game civilization, a science fiction experience.” … ‘The victims are treated like insects: the military slang for a successful strike, when the victim is blown apart on the screen in display of blood and gore is, “bug splat.’
I will be writing separately on this book, that Karen Armstrong author of biography of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and History of Islam called ‘ground breaking’ and ‘startling’ for ‘uncovering inconvenient truth, a fearful reality which endangers us all and in which we are all implicated.’ What shivered me down the spine and made me insomniac was the realization that the drone strikes had been also knocking at my door- and had not a good sense prevailed upon the Washington, the eight hundred kilometers long LOC would have been turned into another Waziristan and Balochistan. In chapter titled `Obama’s Dilemma’, analyzing how drone strikes were contrary to the ideas on which the United States was founded, he gives us graphic account how America ‘was not just using hammer to squash a mosquito, but ‘bunker busters’. Talking about specter of Al Qaeda in the periphery and telling us how many countries have sought to join the terror network because of extensive benefits it brings with, he makes a startling revelation about India talking about threat of Al Qaeda in Kashmir. He writes, “India similarly adopted the frame of terror and threat of Al Qaeda in its ongoing conflict in the Muslim mountainous areas of Kashmir, the territory disputed between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947 and the sources of their three wars.” Talking about genesis of the dispute, denial of the plebiscite and Kashmir continuing to remain divided between India and Pakistan he tells us, “ By linking Kashmir to war on terror, India was able to translate this move into several important economic, military, political, and nuclear agreements with the United States. As a consequence, the Kashmir issue was effectively put in the deep freeze, India’s traditional foe was sidelined, and India was recognized as a major player on the world.”
New Delhi in transforming the after 9/11 developments to its advantage has been its diplomatic best. The failure of Islamabad to grapple with situation and its faux pas of joining war on terror to has been disastrously to its disadvantage. It would have been disastrous for us had not the United States developed second thoughts about presence of Al Qaeda in Kashmir. Akbar informs us, “In early 2002 Indian intelligence informed the CIA that Bin Laden was hiding in Kashmir. America and British Special forces were deployed to the region in a manhunt. Later, that year, the U.S. secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated in Delhi, after meeting with Indian leaders, ‘I have seen indications that there are Al Qaeda operating near the line of control.” The intelligence reports had opened the United States an opportunity be militarily present in Kashmir, “It had offered U.S. military technology to guard the India-Kashmir border an agreement between the two countries for sharing intelligence and joint Indo-US military action.” (P 295). It was after Rumsfeld meeting Musharraf that U.S. softened its stand otherwise the people living across the line of control would have also suffered the drone strikes as those in Waziristan and Balochistan and many more miseries would have been added to already Kashmiris bucketful.
True, taking Kashmir off the drone strike radar right in 2002 gives a sigh of relief but the clouds of uncertainty that have overcast the sub-continent much before December 2014, the date for withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan are worrisome. There has been spurt in the ceasefire violations on the Line of Control during past one month and despite India and Pakistan leadership pledging of live up to the 2004 Ceasefire Agreement the ceasefire violations have not stopped. The question that haunts me is if the continuous skirmishes are not a prelude to the negative spillover of the 2014 endgame in Afghanistan.