The new drone challenge

India has woken up rather late in devising countermeasures to deal with attacks

The new drone challenge

Be ready: India must develop and utilise its own drone capabilities to undertake similar cross-border operations. PTI

G Parthasarathy

Chancellor, Jammu Central University & Former High Commissioner to Pakistan

Public attention in India is now on the drone attack on the Jammu air base. The attack was obviously masterminded by the ISI. Pakistan has used drones for some years now, to provide weapons and ammunition for terrorists infiltrated across the international border and the LoC in Punjab and J&K. New Delhi has woken up rather late in devising countermeasures to deal with the menace of drone attacks. It is time India developed measures not only to deal with challenges posed by incoming drones, but also by developing and utilising its own capabilities to undertake such cross-border operations. An Israeli partnership in developing our capacities, both defensive and offensive, in the production and use of drones could be very useful.

It would also be imperative to keep a close eye on developments on the use of drones, in which Pakistan and China would be working together. We should assess the mess that Pakistan has landed itself in the recent past. Its woes started with the fiasco it landed in, thanks to its foreign minister, who proclaimed that Pakistan had done all that was necessary to end international financial sanctions at the June meeting of the FATF. The FATF, in turn, proclaimed that there could be no question of Pakistan being removed from its ‘grey list’. It added that Pakistan was yet to ‘address concerns regarding investigation and prosecution of senior leaders and commanders of designated terror groups’.

The FATF also noted that there are still ‘deficiencies’ in the measures Pakistan has taken to check money laundering and terror financing. These deficiencies pertained to Pakistan’s investigation and prosecution of senior leaders and commanders of UN-designated terrorist groups. This FATF statement amounted to direct criticism of Pakistan for allowing the likes of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi of the LeT and Maulana Masood Azhar of the JeM to move around freely. India had, rather thoughtlessly, released Azhar during the hijacking of IC 814 to Kandahar. Azhar responded promptly to our ‘generosity’ in releasing him by masterminding the attack on our Parliament in 2001.

The ISI will blame India, while speaking without any proof, of an ‘India hand’ in all that is happening in Pakistan. It remains to be seen how the present situation plays out. There is one reality the Pakistan establishment cannot ignore. That is the growing Pashtun alienation in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan. The Pashtun alienation arose from brutal cruelties perpetrated by the Pakistan army. The army’s massive military operation, titled ‘Zarb-e-Azb’, which also involved the use of air power, resulted in an estimated 5 lakh Pashtuns fleeing from their homes.

Pashtuns have a tradition of not forgetting, or forgiving, those guilty of perpetrating atrocities, like those the Pakistan army resorted to. The armed Pashtun Tehriq-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) is challenging the Pakistan army in Balochistan and tribal areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pashtuns elsewhere in Pakistan are uniting politically under the Pashtun Tahafuz Mahaz (PTM) to vigorously criticise Pakistan’s military establishment for terrorising the Pashtun people. The PTM has demanded that landmines that were laid by the Pakistan army must be removed from the Pashtun tribal areas.

There is growing international concern about a possible Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. There have been Taliban successes in a handful of Pashtun-majority districts. The Taliban has established its control in an estimated 80 districts that are predominantly Pashtun-majority (out of the 417 districts in Afghanistan). The Iranians have made it clear that they will not just close their eyes if their Shia Hazara brethren face a Taliban onslaught. Moreover, the Tajiks, who constitute 35% of Afghanistan’s population, will not just lay down their arms, and mildly capitulate. Finally, the large Pashtun population that has tasted what freedom means, after the Taliban was ousted, will resist a return of Taliban tyranny. The Russian ambassador in Afghanistan recently noted that Russia does not believe that the Taliban can capture Kabul.

The Taliban is neither respected nor liked in Afghanistan’s neighbourhood, in Iran, and across Central Asia. Its mistreatment of Afghanistan’s Shia Hazara population is legendary. It earned them the wrath of Iran. Moreover, even when the Taliban was ruling Afghanistan, before US intervention, it faced resistance from the Northern Alliance, an alliance of non-Pashtuns, led by the legendary Tajik hero, Ahmed Shah Masood, who fiercely resisted both the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and the subsequent Taliban government, led by Mullah Omar. The Northern Alliance included members of the Tajik, Uzbek, Turkmen and Hazara populations of Afghanistan. It received active support from Iran, India, Russia, France and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours. India obtained over-flight facilities from Iran and an air base in Tajikistan for transporting supplies to the alliance. The then Taliban government had virtually no international recognition, except for continuing support by Pakistan. It colluded with the hijackers of IC 814. The Taliban fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan after Afghanistan was taken over by the US. The present Taliban leadership is largely made up of Mullah Omar’s protégés.

Pakistan now wants to seal its borders with Afghanistan. It has been involved in a serious effort to construct barriers across the Durand Line. Virtually no Pashtun has ever recognised this border. The Taliban has, in fact, indicated that its borders extend to the Pakistani town of Attock. Fears of a Taliban takeover could lead to hundreds of people of Indian origin seeking to flee to India. New Delhi would, hopefully, observe its traditions of welcoming refugees, fleeing from Taliban oppression.

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