Red Lines and Declarations of War

PTI spokesperson Shireen Mazari leads anti-American demonstration

PTI spokesperson Shireen Mazari leads anti-American demonstration

The latest drone attack is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, it took place in Khyber Pakhtunkwa. As far as I remember, every other drone strike till date has taken place in FATA where it was always explained that there was no other way to reach terrorists due to the difficult landscape. The geographical expansion of drone strikes, even if it is an anomaly, is important though. We know that the CIA informs the ISI every month of the areas they intend to strike, so the question must be asked whether the military knew that the American ‘flight boxes’ had been expanded and chose to do nothing to stop it, or whether the military was once again caught sleeping as it was when American helicopters flew into Abbottabad?

The timing of the strike, too, bears some interest. The latest drone strike comes 20 days after the one that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, setting off a wave of outrage. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that his government would meet to discuss consequences for relations with the US, and Imran Khan promised to cut off NATO supply routes as revenge for Mehsud’s death. That blockade was supposed to begin on 20th November, actually, until it was postponed in response to sectarian attacks in Rawalpindi on Muharram 10. The US seems to be sending a clear signal that threats of worsened relations with Pakistan or blockades of NATO supplies are not enough to stop them from taking out high-level terrorists. This gets right to the heart of the matter.

Officials in Islamabad and Pindi like to talk about ‘red lines’ like the husband who pronounces ‘talaq’ twice only as a warning to his wife, knowing that he will withdraw before the third pronouncement. Pakistan-US relations are not a marriage, though. There is no ‘divorce’ option that allows each side to go its separate way. The two countries will have relations, and those relations will always include ‘red lines’. The question is only about where the ‘red lines’ are drawn and what side we choose to be on.

When officials start talking about ‘red lines’, what they are really doing is threatening to move Pakistan’s ‘red line’ to put us on the on the other side of it from the US. Since Gen Musharraf first approved drone strikes, and Gen Kayani requested an increase in drone strikes, Pakistan and the US have been on the same side of the ‘red line’. Following the most recent two drone strikes, though, there is an increasingly vocal movement to change that.

PTI spokesperson Shireen Mazari has termed the latest drone strike as ‘declaration of war‘. This is a serious charge because it means that we are at war with the US.

Think carefully about that for a minute.

The Americans have carried out two drone strikes this month that have brought us to the point of considering ourselves at war. The first strike killed TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud who was responsible for thousands of deaths of innocent Pakistanis. The second strike killed senior members of the Haqqani Network including advisor to Sirajuddin Haqqani Maulvi Ahmed Jan. But this is how Imran Khan characterised the dead

Ahmed Jan was a close advisor to militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but to Imran Khan he is ‘teacher’. This is a perfect explanation of the two sides of the ‘red line’ that some are keen to shift.

Before we decide whether we want to be at war with the US, let us put our position is perspective. There will be no global or polar alliance against the US. Whatever their differences, China will not support Pakistan in a war against America. They have too many common interests. Even Iran, after years of isolation, is finally seeing relations with the US improve and they are not likely to throw that away to ally with a country where Shia are killed with impunity.

Moving the ‘red line’ does have some benefits, though. We will be on the side of the ‘red line’ where the world imposes economic sanctions that finally break the ‘begging bowl’ once and for all, and we can finally test Imran Khan’s theory that we can be a fully self-sufficient nation as we face global economic sanctions and trade embargoes. Where travel bans  prevent us from suffering the indignity of sideways glances and extra screenings at airports.

And just because we would be shunned by countries like Iran and China, we wouldn’t be alone. If we take Shireen Mazari’s advice and decide that we are at war with the US, we will be on the side of the red line where Taliban, al Qaeda, Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other militants already are. This is the choice we’re really facing, isn’t it? Do we want to be on the side of the ‘red line’ that includes the world’s tolerant, pluralistic democracies? Or do we prefer to be on the side of the ‘red line’ that embraces suicide bombers and sectarian violence?

This is a choice only we can make. Then again, suicide is always a choice only we can make, isn’t it?

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