By Syed Moazzam Hashmi
ISLAMABAD, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- Unlike the "motive of revenge" theory that became popular earlier this year with the intensifying drone strikes in Pakistani tribal areas, the most speculated question now suggests that the unmanned spy aircraft's killer strikes are a temporary replacement for pending military operation against militants in North Waziristan.
No decision has so far been taken on starting an operation in North Waziristan, local media quoted a Pakistan military top brass on Thursday as saying about the eagerly awaited military maneuver by the United States and its NATO allies.
The Pakistan army will decide when to go for it, said Lt. General Asif Yasin, a Peshawar-based Corps Commander of the Pakistani military, in line with Pakistani military chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, who had consistently been resisting despite that the United States insisted a "steamroller" operation in the rugged tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
Over the past two years a dramatic shift has been noticed in the past six years of drone strikes. In 2009, 42 percent of the total air strikes were in North Waziristan while 51 percent were in South Waziristan and the rest of the fractional percentile hit other nearby areas, according to available intelligence reports.
However, it turned more dramatic this year, as the drone focused mainly on North Waziristan with 91 percent of the total attacks until the latest one on Nov. 28. While the remaining percentiles hit missiles in South Waziristan.
Besides a number of commoners among militants, this year's drone strikes killed at least ten prominent militant leaders including Sheikh al-Fateh, al-Qaeda's operational chief in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Saifullah, Sirajuddin Haqqani's cousin and others.
The U.S. has labeled North Waziristan as an epicenter of terrorism and hub of al-Qaeda and other associated militant groups. Interestingly, over 152,000 NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops that are fighting insurgency in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban government in 2001, hold a bunch of militants as a major factor in an apparent U.S. failure of an ambitious misadventure in Afghanistan, local analysts believe.
The U.S. has regarded drone strikes as the "most successful strategy" in its continuing war against terrorism which is particularly focusing on North Waziristan area. However, these strikes have strongly been protested in Pakistan and condemned by international organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International in their reports this summer. Drones have killed more civilians than the targeted militants with an approximate 25: 1 ratio. However, the U.S. based organization downplayed civilian casualties.
It began in 2004 with 45 drone strikes during President Bush era with most since August 2008. Initially, drones were allowed for surveillance by Pakistan during former President Pervez Musharraf administration. The unmanned planes' strikes which often were referred as "drone war" have killed some 709 people in 53 strikes in 2009. It killed over 857 people in 106 strikes so far this year.
The sudden upsurge in drone attacks in insurgency plagued Pakistani tribal areas was noticed after a Dec. 30, 2009 suicide attack at a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) base in eastern Afghanistan. Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack that killed seven CIA officers, contractors and a Jordanian intelligence officer, as revenge for killing disbanded Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud in a drone strike in August 2009.
In reports published earlier this year, the U.S.-based analysts such as Peter Bergen and Bill Roggio believed a revenge factor behind the intensified drone strikes.
"They had to show that the attack didn't hurt their ability to target (militants) and that they still had the capacity to do so," Roggio was quoted in February by a CNN report.
However, the drone story has moved far more than the revenge motive, as wiping out al-Qaeda and its associated insurgent groups including TTP or infamous Pakistani Taliban remained the cornerstone of drone war campaign.
"Enough is enough," screamed Khawaja Saad Rafiq, an opposition legislator at the floor of Pakistan's national assembly representing the general sentiment against the increasing drone attacks.
"Pakistan's patience has already run out on the U.S. drone strikes," Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani loudly condemned the attacks in his first hard-hitting statement on the issue in October, calling it against the sovereignty of the country.
While dancing in the same tune, the Pakistani Foreign Office had also declared the same month that there was no treaty between Pakistan and the U.S. on drone strikes. Neither such attacks are justified, spokesman Abdul Basit stated.
However, "political statements have to be given to calm down sentiments and keep political temperatures under control," said Arshi Saleem, an Afghan affairs and counter terrorism expert at the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) in Islamabad.
"Whereas strategic considerations have to be based on 'real- politick' and harsh facts," Saleem told Xinhua on Friday in an interview.
Certain undesirable unbridled non-state actors need to be removed without direct engagement and save favorable ones, the senior researcher elaborated, saying it would help keeping Pakistan upfront in forthcoming future developments in Afghanistan while safeguarding national interests as well.
Amid an economically compelling scenario where multibillion dollar civil and military aid from the U.S. and other allied countries necessarily oils the entire Pakistani machinery, local watchers believe that drone strikes are likely to continue as a temporary makeshift strategy because of a "deep understanding" that exists amongst the stakeholders fighting against terrorism in the region.