(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)
The tangled path to ending US drone strikes will be mapped through diplomacy, courtroom challenges, activist protests and pressure on the mainstream media to challenge official secrecy.
On the diplomatic-political front, a de facto agreement between the US and Pakistan over Afghanistan could end the drone strikes concentrated on Taliban sanctuaries in North Waziristan. Since the US is withdrawing ground troops from Afghanistan and cannot afford to invade Pakistan, unmanned aerial vehicles are currently the weapons of last resort. Their attacks, however, have failed to defeat the insurgents and continue to inflame Muslim opinion in Pakistan and elsewhere, steadily provoking an eventual security threat to the United States.
Until November’s election, Republicans (and Democratic hawks) campaigned furiously against any sign of US government “talks with the Taliban,” effectively squashing the diplomatic alternative or driving the process into complete secrecy. The impasse also prevented the release of US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held as a Taliban prisoner in Pakistan since June 2009. The secret talks had considered a swap of Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders held in Guantanamo Bay.
But the secret contacts led to a post-election agreement—now directly involving Pakistan—to transfer more than a dozen Afghan Taliban figures to Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, the negotiating entity that represents Kabul in the fragile peace process. Expecting release is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former Taliban military commander whose capture by American and Pakistani forces in 2010 was blamed for the earlier derailment of the process. Others already released include an assistant to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, as well as former Taliban ministers of justice, communications and military commanders.
The Taliban releases were announced on November 17 in Kabul by Salahuddin Rabbani, son of the former Peace Council leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was assassinated in 2011.
The clock is ticking loudly on the scheduled US troop withdrawals, forcing all parties to choose a power-sharing ceasefire arrangement or risk a renewed civil war by 2015. The current Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, is scheduled for replacement in new elections in late 2014, the same date that US ground operations end. Drone policies will also be taken up in the US-Afghanistan status of forces agreement talks, which began in mid-November and are scheduled to conclude in May.
Pakistan is unlikely to agree to a diplomatic initiative unless it includes a termination of the drone strikes. And if the Taliban are integrated into a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan, the US will lack any further rationale for its drone and predator attacks.
In his October 18 interview with Jon Stewart, President Obama issued a stunning invitation to Congress to “rein in” his administration, and future administrations, before another Imperial Presidency becomes his legacy. Obama suggested that Congress supply him with new “legal architecture” to harness the new nature of warfare to principles of democracy and accountability. A revision of the 1973 War Powers Act would be a starting point.
The US drone policy toward Pakistan is setting off “alarms” among key State Department lawyers, including Harold Koh (Wall Street Journal, September 26). Similar alarms over the Libya intervention led White House lawyers to classify their internal memos as top-secret.