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by Angela Davis
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Feb 20, 2014
The United Sates is planning to transform airbases in Central Asia to perform drone attacks in Pakistan. High consideration is being given to this in context of the US Afghanistan withdrawal dilemma. The Voice of Russia talked to Hasan Askari Rizvi, political scientist and military analyst.
Why does the US concentrate so much on its drone program?
The reason is that the US can target extremists and terrorist groups based in Pakistan from the air without involving any American troops directly, so there is no loss of American lives in that respect. And secondly the government of Pakistan was opposed to American troops physically entering Pakistan and undertaking operation against terrorists. Therefore they are using drones form the air to target the Al Qaeda and other terrorists in Pakistan and tribal area of the Afghan border.
What is Pakistani government's viewpoint about the drone attacks that are being carried out on the territory of Pakistan?
The government of Pakistan opposes the use of drone aircrafts by the US. Pakistani argument is that these drones are being used without the consent of Pakistan and therefore they violate Pakistan sovereignty, therefore this must be stopped. The other argument is that a large number of innocent people were not part of this kind of war in Pakistani tribal areas, these people get tired which creates anti-Pakistan sentiment in the tribal areas.
Do you have any statistics on how many civilians have been killed since the beginning of the drone program in Pakistan by the US?
The data on civilian deaths varies and some of the estimates give small number but most of the estimates talk about a large number of people being killed but no specific figures or verified figure are available because up to now no Pakistani or foreign correspondent has been able to reach the areas where these drones are used and mostly these drones are used in the areas which are dominated by the terrorist and militant groups.
US drones haven't been active in Pakistan since December 2013. What's the reason that the US government has changed its policy or in any case has perhaps not been as active with the drones since that date?
The reason is that the government of Pakistan had been raising this issue again and again with the American authorities that they should stop using the drone aircraft and therefore they reduced the use of drone aircraft. And then the second reason is that currently the government of Pakistan is trying to negotiate some kind of political arrangement with the Taliban groups in Pakistani tribal areas and government of Pakistan had asked the US government to avoid using drone aircraft while they are negotiating with Taliban. Therefore there hasn't been any drone attack in the tribal areas of Pakistan in the month of January and up to now in February.
And yet the US government is planning to transport airbases to Central Asia and it is thought that this is likely to be able to continue the drone attacks in Pakistan. Do you think that there is a chance that we will see a continuation of the drone attacks?
The US has never said that it will abandon the use of drone aircraft in Pakistani areas, they have just stopped for the time being. They are looking for new bases in Central Asia because the Americans fear that the Afghan president whoever is elected in April may not sign bilateral security arrangement with Afghanistan, then they will have to move their troops as well withdraw aircrafts from Afghanistan. So as an alternate they are seeking some space in Central Asia for their drone aircraft that will be used in Pakistani tribal areas as well as over Afghanistan if that eventuality arises.
What kind of toll has really the drone program had on the US-Pakistani relations?
It has adversely affected this relationship. This is one contentious issue in the Pakistan-US relations because Pakistan objects to the use of drone aircraft. However despite the difference of opinion between Pakistan and the US on the use of drone aircrafts, Pakistan and the US continue to cooperate in other sectors of economic cooperation as well as fighting terrorism.
So, do you think that the drones haven't overshadowed with the negativity good relations with Pakistan? Do you think this is going to be continue to be the case? I'm wondering to what extent are the people of Pakistan against the fact that American drones are flying over the country and that civilians are being killed?
What you see in Pakistan-US relations is that positive as well as negative interaction is going on simultaneously: in some areas they diverge and disagree while in some areas they do cooperate with each other. So far as the reaction at the popular level is concerned, the reaction is generally negative with the exception that some of the political groups are arguing that drone aircrafts have killed Taliban and some Al Qaeda people where Pakistan government could not reach because these areas are not under effective control of the Pakistani authorities. So, some people argue that drones should continue to be used, but the majority of population and lots of the government have a stand which is very critical of the use of drone aircrafts by the US.
I see, so there is actually some positive response to the fact that these drones are in fact effective in fighting Al Qaeda troops that are in very, I guess you can say, isolated areas, is that the case?
Well, these drone aircrafts have killed some Al Qaeda and some Pakistani Taliban leaders over the years, but the number of those killed by the drone aircrafts belonging to Al Qaeda and Taliban is lesser in number that the civilians or non-related people being killed.
Source: Voice of Russia
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