It goes without saying that the US initiated drone strikes coming across the Durand Line from Afghanistan are a rapacious violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, pride and self-respect. They breach international laws, human rights and many view them as war crimes too. Where they have put some Taliban leaders like Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud out of business they have also caused a vastly disproportionate amount of collateral damage - cruel, unwarranted deaths of innocent men, women and children.

A horrific case of costs versus effects; a tragic lack of balance between the two!

The timing of the latest strike is extremely intriguing. It came at the end of PM Nawaz Sharif’s Washington yatra and a day before his Government would have engaged the TTP. It only confirms that PM Nawaz Sharif failed to convince President Obama on at least two counts; the illegality of the drone strikes as well as his policy of negotiating with the Taliban. And in one fell swoop the US demolished both Pakistani contentions and our PM’s already fragile credibility. This strike is apparently aimed at reasserting US’ authority over Pakistan and the evolving strategic environment in the Af-Pak Region (APR) upto and beyond December 2014. The US’ unique authoritarian position as the sole “Master of the Game” is to perhaps remain unchallenged.

Our Government is protesting vociferously against this drone strike. Is history regretfully repeating itself?

Horrendous and despicable as the drone strikes might be, yet they need to be seen in the correct perspective and within the context of the overall GWOT. In Pakistan they seem to be taking over center stage literally hijacking attention away from the much larger issue of combating terrorism as a whole. A part becoming more important than the whole! This is obfuscating the larger picture, creating wrong priorities and misdirecting our counter terrorism efforts!

Is it a deliberate effort to force a change in Pakistan’s strategic direction in the GWOT? Or is a continuation of the status quo in the APR in US’ interest?

Are the drone strikes then the real casus belli of terrorism? Does the center of gravity of the terrorism issue lie in the drones and their strikes? Will all acts of terrorism cease along with the drone strikes? Will terrorism become any less murderous and devastating thereafter? Will the loosely allied Taliban-TTP Combine lay down its arms, give up its struggle and submit meekly to the law and the Constitution of Pakistan then? Will there be a compatible quid pro quo from the Taliban-TTP Combine? If not, then why this frenzied focus and hyperbole about the drones alone? Why are we losing focus on the larger picture? Are we not doing exactly what they want us to do? Bring the deadly drone strikes to an unconditional end!

The TTP appear to be dictating terms to the Pakistan Government. Earlier they demanded that the Armed Forces of Pakistan ought to vacate and cede the FATA to them and free all their prisoners as pre-conditions to negotiations. Then they added the cessation of drone strikes to this gradually expanding list. What next, then?

A cessation of drone strikes would greatly strengthen their negotiating position and expand their strategic reach immediately and immensely. It would also grant them greater freedom to assemble, train, move and operate; freedoms they desperately crave for. That will have massive strategic implications for Pakistan and the GWOT and will exponentially increase the levels of violence within the country and the region.

The issue must only be decided through professionally conducted strategic appraisals and assessments and not by emotions, political sloganeering and media debates. Factors other than credible and sensible political and military ones appear to be holding sway at the moment. The Pakistan Government is steadily losing its grip on the issue while the Taliban-TTP Combine appears to be consolidating itself and gradually moving into advantageous positions prior to the negotiations - if and whenever they are held!

Pakistan needs to have a reality check and a realistic rather than idealistic approach to the issue. Thus far it has been hampered by a perplexing lack of a credible National Security Policy (NSP) and the consequent counter terrorism (CT) and counter insurgency (COIN) strategies. This lack of an NSP, a well enunciated strategic direction, a and compatible operational plans to achieve it has caused all efforts to combat terrorism go haywire. This has caused the priorities to be misplaced with halting the drone strikes becoming the sole focus of attention rather than defeating the overall scourge of terrorism. Then pursuing negotiations with the terrorists without having maneuvered into an unambiguous and unassailable position of strength is beyond comprehension. The Government’s actions on these two counts are contradictory, self-defeating and are likely to bring to naught its efforts to win the war on terror. It is already a victim of its own ill-considered rhetoric and the pressures generated by some political parties.

The Pakistan Government needs to revisit the priorities it has assigned to various aspects of the GWOT. It must sequence its actions correctly. It must create the desired strategic environment, ascertain and then maintain strategic direction to win the battle against terrorism. It must have an all-encompassing and comprehensive NSP. This should then lead to logical conclusions, CT and COIN strategies and operational plans to deal with issues like the drones, negotiations et al. And these plans should then be implemented in a coherent, focused and clearly defined manner.

Defeating terrorism also requires correct prioritization of objectives, clarity of thought and action, a deep understanding and insight into the issue and an iron political and military will to execute it. Cessation or otherwise of drone strikes must emerge and be a part of the overall strategy to combating terrorism; it must never dictate it. The same must apply to the policy of negotiations. They must be broached from a position of unassailable strength only. These must result in political and military dividends for Pakistan.

Nothing short of that will work.

The author is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache’ in Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).