Al Jazeera Blogs


Does fact-finding help?

Visiting Pakistan, McCain refuses to accept that US drone attacks' civilian toll hands Taliban a propaganda victory.

Last modified: 9 Jan 2010 11:33
AFP photo

On my first full day back in Islamabad, I find myself at an early morning news conference with a US senate delegation headed by former presidential hopeful John McCain.

He and his three colleagues flew in from Afghanistan late on Thursday and went straight into a meeting with the Pakistanti President Asif Zaradari. One of the main talking points here is the use of unmanned drones to target Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

The president, and others, want the technology and the intelligence to carry out these attacks themselves, seeing the American action as an infringement of their sovereignty. The Americans repeat that "friends sometimes disagree".

Propaganda victory

A number of topics are quickly covered, but I stand and I ask Senator McCain if he accepts that every time a drone attack kills an innocent person, it sours relations between ordinary Pakistanis and Americans and hands his opponents a propaganda victory.

He gives a standard answer, almost a repeat of a section of the speech he used during the election campaign which repeats his line that they will take action if it protects American lives.

He tries to move on to the next question but I feel he hasn't answered the basic premise of the question - which is a clever politician's trick. So I stand and politely point out: "With respect, sir, you haven't answered my question."

McCain is in no mood for compromise and you can tell in his tone, he is not used to being treated like this. He is sharp, his frustration barely hidden - "With respect sir, you have my answer" - as he once again makes the point that drones save American lives and there's no likelihood of the US changing that position.

Different standards

To his side, former vice-presidental hopeful, Joe Lieberman, makes the valid point that America is held to a different standard and the Taliban and al-Qaeda kill innocent people with little outrage. A few Pakistani journalists approach me after the news conference.

One comes from the area where many drone attacks are carried out.

"They don't understand. When innocent people are killed, the Taliban go to the mosque they say, 'See what the Americans are doing here. You should help us'.

"And the people there don't watch the news, they don't read the papers and so they think this is so and they join the fight against America. They don't understand what this does."

American politicans make regular trips to Pakistan on fact-finding missions but one Pakistani journalist tells me: "They may know the facts, but they have a lot to learn."