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ZP Heller

ZP Heller

Posted April 10, 2009 | 11:29 AM (EST)

The Extreme Dangers of Obama's Pakistan Gambit


Unmanned war machines causing a massive humanitarian crisis? It sounds like a dystopic sci-fi plot line, but it's all too real, all too terrifying, and it's happening right now in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the Sunday Times UK, up to 1 million people have fled their homes to escape the U.S. military's predator drone attacks. The Obama administration has relied on these remotely operated planes more and more to target al Qaeda and militant Taliban members seeking sanctuary in the area. But drone attacks are often imprecise, killing innocent civilians, fueling animosity toward the U.S., and driving 546,000 people to register as internally displaced, according to the UN.

The Pakistani government claims these air strikes are contributing to more extremism, and they want the U.S. to hand over its drone technology and intelligence. Moreover, drone attacks have heightened already strained diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. The NY Times reports that Pakistani minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi cited the drone attacks when he called into question the trust between the two countries, loudly admonishing special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen at a news conference this week. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of Pakistan's intelligence, refused to meet with Holbrooke.

All signs point to the fact that the Obama administration is pursuing an extremely dangerous military strategy here, one that is a holdover from the Bush era and could further destabilize countries already reeling from economic and political instability. When President Obama announced his plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan recently, he promised $7.5 billion to Pakistan over the next five years, tripling non-military aid. Obama also promised increased military assistance for Pakistan's army, but all of this is conditional, requiring Pakistan to crack down on extremists within its borders. The administration keeps saying there will be "no blank check for Pakistan," to which Qureshi replied Pakistan will "neither accept nor give one."

It appears the Obama administration is using the carrot and stick approach here, but without giving the carrot a fair chance to succeed. How can diplomatic pressure and economic enticement possibly work when the our drone attacks are simultaneously killing innocent civilians and displacing hundreds of thousands of people? And how can the Pakistani government root out militants in the country's lawless tribal areas when our military's actions are contributing to more extremism and anti-American sentiment?

I agree we cannot allow this border region to serve as a safe haven for al Qaeda terrorists or Taliban militants, but deadly drone attacks are clearly not the answer. We must seek an alternative strategy, one that gives regional diplomacy a legitimate chance to work. And we have to act fast, because otherwise we're just going to have more extremists to deal with, along with an enraged Pakistani government that has no ability to fix its own socioeconomic strife, and a colossal crisis on our hands.