“Too Little, Too Late, We Already Have Superior UAVs”
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan military sources say they are not impressed by the offer of the United States to supply RQ-7 Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), as they already have superior quality UAVs, which they have upgraded, and which are in use.
The disappointment is understandable since unlike the drones that fly and take out targets inside Pakistan’s Fata region, the ones being offered to Pakistan are unarmed and commonly used for intelligence gathering.
Later, when DG ISPR Major General Athar Abbas was asked about the overall weapons being provided to Pakistan for counterinsurgency and other military supplies, he remarked, “Too little, too late”.
It was US Defence Secretary Robert Gates who, in a meeting with the media at the residence of the US ambassador, said the US was enhancing Pakistan’s intelligence capabilities. He said the offer comes because Islamabad had requested for them. “We have a lot of information on the Afghan side that we share … we also help Pakistan build its own capacity. We will be providing them with UAVs (Shadow) together with equipment and training,” he said.
To a question whether the US was attaching any conditions to these UAVs, he replied, “I do not know”. In the past, the US was wary of passing on the drone technology to Pakistan as Islamabad could use it in areas other than it had specifically been given for.
One American journalist accompanying him asked about the possibility of stopping arms sale to India and Pakistan altogether. “We have to judge each country’s requirement on its own. We sell Pakistan F-16s and we sell India transport aircraft. We make a decision judiciously,” Gates replied.
Gates appeared relaxed with the questions being thrown at him by the local and US media but it was the ‘D’ word that he refused to entertain. Though several questions relating to US drones were asked, he shrugged them off and would not even give an answer as to whom in the US this question could be put.
When he said that there were no US bases inside Pakistan. he refused a reply when asked from where these US drones flew. Amongst the defence secretary’s aides in uniform that greeted the media before he arrived were those who offered their greetings in chaste Urdu and one of them also spoke excellent Pashto!
As if on cue, the Pakistan military’s announcement that it could not overstretch itself in fresh areas of operation also saw Gates admitting to a query that a ‘trust deficit’ existed. “There is responsibility on both sides. From the US side, we turned away from Afghanistan in 1989. We could have remained engaged but we did not even try. Then the Pressler Amendment brought an end to military-to-military conversation for 12 years when we had no contacts. We cannot rebuild trust through rhetoric,” he said.
Turning to the present moment, Gates said that the US was deeply impressed with Pakistan’s military operations and the level of activity and clearing of areas. “Very impressive. Pakistan is a sovereign state and makes its own decisions on future operations. The past year has been extraordinary. Let me put it this way. If we are in a car together, it is Pakistan in the driving seat with its foot on the accelerator. We are prepared to help and also express our condolences to the 3,000 Pakistani soldiers killed. General Kayani gave me a detailed briefing,” explained the defence secretary.
To a query about the Coalition Support Fund that has been held up and which Pakistan needs on an emergency basis, Gates replied, “It will come and we are also reviving $500 million deferred payment.”
He explained instances in the past where Pakistan’s procedures lacked proper documentation. “We are working with Pakistan on the documentation and will give it to Congress. We are working on it now and some people we are seeking to add to the US Embassy will help,” he said.
When a question of opening up dialogue with the Taliban inside Afghanistan was put to him, he replied, “Afghanistan has its own reconciliation and reintegration plan. It is how low-level Taliban can work in their own community. These are Taliban foot soldiers who work for money. As economic development proceeds and there is greater security, more and more foot soldiers will come back,” he pointed out. But he did not agree that there were any chances of the Taliban forming the next government in Kabul. However, he did say that there were conditions if they wanted a future political role.
“If the adversaries are willing to become part of the political fabric of Afghanistan and they are prepared to play a legitimate role, abide by the Constitution and recognise the Kabul government. What do the Taliban make of Afghanistan? It was a desert (during their last government). “Are they ready to rebuild?”
To several queries regarding the role of India in the region, Gates said that the last thing he wanted to avoid was another Mumbai-like attack. “We all have common enemies and in the past year they tried to destabilise Pakistan itself. We have regional problems that need regional cooperation,” he said.
He said the US was ready to play a constructive role between India and Pakistan and was well prepared. “In 1990 then President Bush sent me to the region and we made suggestions. Both parties do not want intervention and we are comfortable with that,” he said.
When told that with Kashmir unresolved, now more issues, like India’s role in Afghanistan, were leading to confrontation, Gates replied, “Al-Qaeda does not care about Kashmir. Kashmir is an issue for both sides.”
He said he was unaware that at the forthcoming London conference, a formal role would be offered to India. But he acknowledged that India had significant development programmes. Calling al-Qaeda a cancer, Gates did not mince his words when he said: “They are all bad”. Refusing to distinguish between the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda, Haqqani network and the various Lashkars, he said it would be a mistake to look at them individually.