The Reality of Civilian Deaths

Military operation in N Waziristan

Say what you will about Imran Khan, but at least he is consistent. The PTI chief opposes American drone strikes, but he opposes Pakistan Army operations also. Unfortunately, Kaptaan’s policy is based in the wishful thinking that the national defence can always be maintained without any civilian deaths. This is a fantasy, not a reality, and national defence requires facing the reality.

A case in point is nuclear weapons. These are considered as a deterrent option – a weapon that is so terrifying that it will prevent the enemy from attacking – but even nuclear weapons are only a deterrent if the enemy believes that they could be used. By using a nuclear weapon against Japan in World War 2, the US demonstrated that it not only had the bomb but was willing to use it. On the other hand, Iraq tried to use the illusion of nuclear weapons as a deterrence to the American invasion in 2003, but because the Americans either did not believe Saddam Hussein actually had the weapons or that he would use them, there was not deterrence. This is why nuclear powers occasionally test their weapons, so that they can demonstrate ability without actually killing massive numbers of people. And this gets to the point: nuclear weapons are indiscriminate in killing soldiers and civilians. This is why they are such a powerful deterrent.

Civilized nations avoid killing civilians whenever possible. This is why militaries have developed new ‘smart’ weapons that are able to more precisely find enemy targets rather than just destroying everything in a wide radius. At the same time, though, wars have moved away from traditional battlefields and into populated areas. So, even though militants are keeping near civilians, precision weapons can reduce the number of civilian casualties. This was explained by Maj Gen Ghayur Mehmood in a 2011 briefing to journalists.

General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood said in a briefing here: “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.

“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”

Opposition to drones among the military ranks is due primarily to the fact that America has chosen to carry out these operations within Pakistan’s borders themselves rather than, as should be customary, helping Pakistan to handle its own affairs itself. Unfortunately, the way this opposition has been communicated has largely been to focus on the issue of civilian casualties. While this has been extremely effective at turning public opinion against the Americans, it has also spread the fantasy that there is some way to remove the terrorist threat that presents no threat to civilians. This is impossible, and could have the unintended consequence of undermining confidence in Pakistan’s military.

A few days ago, the government declared there would be no military action against the Taliban, and that talks would be pursued only as a path to peace. Military action did take place, though as security forces battled militants in North Waziristan. The response has largely focused on the number of civilian casualties.

COAS Gen Raheel Sharif has said that terrorist attacks will not be tolerated, and they will be given a adequate response. This is the right position to take, but it has become hard for the public to understand after hearing for years that there is no military solution to terrorism, as was stated by the previous Army chief. If this is true, then why bother having a military at all? There is another layer to the confusion, though, because even if the people are willing to accept military operations, an unrealistic expectation has been created that national security operations should never result in any civilian deaths. When the enemy is jihadi terrorists, the result is a paralysis that only empowers our enemies who are not bothered by such things.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The slightest provocation from India is met with a fierce resistance and an understanding that no sacrifice is too great to defend the nation. With jihadi terrorists, the same message must be conveyed. Imran Khan’s anti-Americanism may have been useful in negotiations before, but as the Americans begin leaving any usefulness it may have had before has expired. The people need to understand that the Taliban is an enemy that seeks to wipe Pakistan off the map.

This is not mere rhetoric. Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid has said only days ago that they are one with Afghan Taliban, that they reject peace talks, and that they do not accept Pakistan’s borders. We may not want to be at war with Taliban, but we do not have a choice. Taliban has declared war on us. We can fight, or we can surrender.

In this fight against the Taliban, innocent civilians will be killed. Unlike the jihadi terrorists, our armed forces do everything to avoid unnecessary killing, but Civilians are being killed intentionally by the jihadis, but if they are killed by our own armed forces it is unintentionally.  Either way, any civilians who are killed are not ‘casualties’, they are martyrs who have sacrificed their lives for their nation. That is a reality that we must accept if we are to survive as a nation.

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