This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch. Click here to listen to Fatima Bhutto discuss US-Pakistan relations.
With governments like Pakistan’s current regime, who needs the strong arm of the CIA? According to Bob Woodward’s latest bestseller Obama’s Wars, when Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, an obsequiously dangerous man, was notified that the CIA would be launching missile strikes from drones over his country’s sovereign territory, he replied, “Kill the seniors. Collateral damage worries you Americans. It doesn’t worry me.”
Why would he worry? When his wife Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 2007 to run for prime minister after years of self-imposed exile, she was already pledged to a campaign of pro-American engagement. She promised to hand over nuclear scientist and international bogeyman Dr. A.Q. Khan, the “father” of the Pakistani atomic bomb, to the International Atomic Energy Agency. She also made clear that, once back in power, she would allow the Americans to bomb Pakistan proper, so that George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror might triumph. Of course, the Americans had been involved in covert strikes and other activities in Pakistan since at least 2001, but we didn’t know that then.
This has been the promise that has kept Zardari, too, in power.
According to the recent cache of State Department cables released by Wikileaks, his position and those of his colleagues in government haven’t wavered. In 2008, for example, Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani enthusiastically told American Ambassador Anne Paterson that he “didn’t care” if drone strikes were launched against his country as long as the “right people” were targeted. (They weren’t.) “We’ll protest in the National Assembly,” Gilani added cynically, “and then ignore it.”
In fact, protests by the National Assembly have been few and far between and yet, by the end of November, Pakistani territory had been targeted by American unmanned Predator and Reaper missile strikes more than 100 times this year alone. CIA drone strikes have, in fact, been a feature of the American war in Pakistan since 2004. In 2008, after Barack Obama won the presidency in the US and Zardari ascended to Pakistan’s highest office, the strikes escalated and soon began occurring almost weekly, later nearly daily, and so became a permanent feature of life for those living in the tribal borderlands of northern Pakistan.
Barack Obama ordered his first drone strike against Pakistan just 72 hours after being sworn in as president. It seems a suitably macabre fact that, according to a UN report on “targeted killings” (that is, assassinations) published in 2010, George W. Bush employed drone strikes 45 times in his eight years as President. In Obama’s first year in office, the drones were sent in 53 times. In the six years that drone strikes have been used in the fight against Pakistan, researchers at the New America Foundation estimate that between 1,283 and 1,971 people have been killed.