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January 11, 2012

Blowback - When A Drone Attack May Justify A Coup

After six quiet weeks the U.S. yesterday again fired a drone on alleged "militants" in Pakistan.

This will have serious consequences in Pakistan. As former Reuters South Asia correspondent Myra MacDonald opines:

Perhaps the most accurate definition of the drone war which has been fought over the tribal areas of Pakistan would be this - making the same mistake over and over and expecting a different outcome.

The outcome is higher anti-American sentiment in Pakistan which will necessitate that both the government and the military will have to take stronger anti-American positions even if some within them might have agreed to the drone strike as, two days ago, a piece in the Express Tribune let one assume.

The drone attack comes at a moment where the Pakistani government, the military and the Supreme Court are at each others throat.

Two conflicts have build up over the memogate and corruption amnesty cases. In a interview with the Chinese People's Daily Prime Minister Gilani accused the head of the army Kayani and the head of its spy service ISI Pascha of illegal behavior. Both had given testimony to the Supreme Court without the approval of the government. Kayani was in China when Gilani gave the interview to the Chinese press.

Through its public relation arm the ISI rejected the accusations and warned the government of "very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the Country".

In a tit for tat reaction the Gilani government fired the defense secretary, a position different than the defense minister, because of "misconduct" in the memogate case. The defense secretary was a retired General and represented the voice of the military in the government. The government now gave his position to the a female civilian secretary of the cabinet Nargis Sethi.

Now the army chief convened the corps commanders for an emergency meeting. While the military earlier rejected any talk of a coup against the government the meeting may well end with a decision to remove the government. Kayani also changed the commander of the 111 Infantry Brigade, which has been used in previous coups.

On top of this comes a pending Supreme Court decision about a contempt of court case against the prime minister who does not want to follow a court order to reopen corruption cases against president Zardari and others. The court is threatening to remove him over the issue.

As the editors of Dawn remark:

Any of the three institutions the government, the superior judiciary and the army being on the warpath does not bode well for national stability.

All three are now on the warpath against each other and adding the renewal of drone strikes at such a precarious moment for the Pakistani state is not only highly irresponsible but may well create serious blowback.

It opens the convenient possibility that whatever happens in Pakistan now, coup or not, can be used by either side to plausibly blame, at least for average Pakistanis, the Americans and their drone attacks.

Posted by b on January 11, 2012 at 13:49 UTC | Permalink


Off topic, but... according toBloomberg, another Iranian Nuke Scientist was blown up.

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a director at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Isfahan province, and another person died, Fars said. Tehran Deputy-Governor Safar-Ali Bratlou told the state-run agency that a magnetic device was placed under Roshan’s car by a person on a motorcycle. He said the method was similar to previous attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists and blamed Israel for the killing.

Some things never change.

Posted by: jdmckay | Jan 11 2012 15:14 utc | 1

This will not help in U.S.-Pakistan relations: US Aided Pakistan Group Which Supported Extremists

The U.S. gave money to a Pakistani Muslim group that organized anti-Taliban rallies, but which later demonstrated in support of an extremist who killed a leading liberal politician, the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan said Wednesday.
The rhetoric at the rallies was mostly focused on opposing militant attacks on shrines, which Barelvis frequent but are opposed by Deobandi Muslims, Pakistan's other main Muslim sect. Deobandis dominate the ranks of the Taliban and other extremists. Some view Barelvis as heretics.

In 2011 and also this month, however, the council led demonstrations in support of the killer of Salman Taseer, a governor who was killed a year ago for his criticism of anti-blasphemy laws used to persecute religious minorities. The displays have appalled Pakistani liberals and stoked international fears that the country is buckling under the weight of extremism.

Posted by: b | Jan 11 2012 15:55 utc | 2

I think the Pakistani military are to smart for an outright coup this time around. Better to cut a deal with Imran Khan (who is rumoured to be close to the military establishment). With his party Tehreek-e-Insaf surging in popularity the Generals probably don't need a coup, better to move forward the election date and get him in.

I suspect Tehreek-e-Insaf will end up cutting a deal with the military similar to Egypt, where the Pakistani military are given free reign in foreign affairs while Tehreek-e-Insaf get to focus on its domestic economic and social justice platforms, which are fairly radical for Pakistani society.

Of course the US wouldn't want that to happen so might be trying to nudge Pakistan into needing a coup and will probably encourage the PPP to fight any attempts at early elections.

Posted by: Colm O' Toole | Jan 11 2012 17:11 utc | 3

@Colm - you may be right there.

But the crisis now seems at an unpredictable level. If Gilani/Zardari tries to kick out Kayani and Pasha, which he formal and legally could probably do, the military may see no alternative to a coup. The Pakistani SC may even support that.

The U.S drones attacks are adding fuel to a fire the U.S. has zero means to control.

Posted by: b | Jan 11 2012 18:59 utc | 4

Watch for a terrorist attack in India. The Pakistani Military could use some of its pet terrorists to forment an external crisis with its arch-foe.

Posted by: PapushiSun | Jan 11 2012 19:35 utc | 5

I'm not sure that I understand what is going on here, but maybe I'm being dim.

The Khyber still closed, as far as I understand. The US is reliant on the northern route, which is much more expensive.

A deliberate further attack on Pakistan suggests that they are happy with the expense of the northern supply route. Or that they think that the Pakistani regime will collapse, and be replaced with a pro-American regime.

Any revolution in Pakistan is more likely to lead to an Islamist regime.

That is only valuable to the US if they succeed in taking the nuclear weapons during the confusion. A very doubtful result.

If that is the US intention, they are desperate.

More likely, it was yet another mistake, and thus plunges the US into yet more problems.

Posted by: alexno | Jan 11 2012 23:02 utc | 6

The drone attack was apparently made under some new rules agreed with the Pakistani military.

It is very doubtful that the military will mount a coup against the government since such acts have become quite unpopular among the people. What is much more likely is for the military to lend support to the Supreme Court in the action it is poised to take against the government.

I don't think Imran Khan is going to get into bed with the military. The latter may prefer his party among the others, but he will steer clear of any entanglement with them.

Posted by: FB Ali | Jan 12 2012 1:06 utc | 7

Imran Khan's support of the military and intelligence agencies is not very comforting especially how he claims to sympathize with the Balochi people who have been consistently treated badly.

Posted by: Irena | Jan 12 2012 16:16 utc | 8

Hmm yesterday: Ready to resign today if party and allies want: Zardari

President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday said that he was ready to give up his seat if his party (PPP) and coalition partners desire, dawnNews reported.

The president along with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was presiding over a meeting of parliamentary leaders of coalition partners at the Presidency in Islamabad.

The president has also called a session of the National Assembly on January 12.
There will be another meeting of same stature before the Jan. 12 NA session, said the president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

So lots of meeting set for today.

But Zardari is not there to take part as planned: Pakistan president goes to Dubai as split with military widens

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari flew to Dubai on a scheduled one-day trip on Thursday, a member of the ruling party and sources said, while tensions grew over a memo seeking U.S. help in preventing a coup by Pakistan's powerful military.
Really? A "scheduled" trip to Dubai? How does that fit with the "another meeting of same stature before the Jan. 12 NA session"?

Best guess for now Zardari bailed out and may not return.

Posted by: b | Jan 12 2012 17:33 utc | 9

It seems the previous junta leader, ex-President and former Army Chief Gen. Musharaff is heading back to Pakistan from I think self-imposed exile.

More grist for the mill.

I wonder where the Supreme Court and judiciary fits into the power landscape. It has the corruption charges against Zardari and possible contempt against Gilani while adding the new "memogate" investigation. Do they side with the military now? They played a big role in getting Musharaff and the military out the previous go around with the lawyer protests.

Posted by: ab initio | Jan 12 2012 18:01 utc | 10


Best guess for now Zardari bailed out and may not return

I don't think so. He is not a quitter. Besides, for now he has a lot of cards to play. The army is very unlikely to mount a coup (unless Z does something stupid like firing Kayani; even then they'll probably first take him to court). The Supreme Court doesn't appear ready for a major showdown. The situation is still fluid with the outcome quite unpredictable, but it hasn't reached the point where Zardari would consider bailing out.

Posted by: FB Ali | Jan 13 2012 1:24 utc | 11

@FB Ali - you seem to be right brigadier: Pakistan president arrives home from Dubai

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari arrived home from Dubai early Friday, officials said, against a backdrop of mounting tension and challenges to his government’s precarious rule.

Posted by: b | Jan 13 2012 5:27 utc | 12

Officials: Pakistani PM called UK, fearing coup

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's prime minister telephoned the top British diplomat in the country this week expressing fears that the Pakistani army might be about to stage a coup, a British official and an official in Islamabad said Friday.

The call, which one official said was "panicky", suggests there was — or perhaps still is — a genuine fear at the highest level of the Pakistani government that army might carry out a coup or support possible moves by the Supreme Court to topple the civilian leadership.

Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani asked High Commissioner Adam Thomson for Britain to support his embattled government, according to the officials, who didn't give their names because of the sensitivity of the issue. It's unclear if the British government took any action.

Such is the weakness of state institutions, Pakistani leaders have often looked to foreign powers, especially the United States and Gulf countries, to intervene in domestic affairs, mediate disputes between feuding power centers or "guarantee" agreements between them.

Posted by: b | Jan 13 2012 11:50 utc | 13

a British official disclosed Gilani's call for help to his government? quite delegitimizing, isn't it?

Posted by: claudio | Jan 13 2012 20:59 utc | 14

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