Welcoming the War – Drones in Pakistan — Part 3

February 11, 2010

Are the Drones Worth the Cost of Compromising Cooperation ?

Are the Drones Worth the Cost of Cooperation ?

Read Part 1 – Reconciling CIA Drones In Pakistan

Read Part 2  – Concessions & Collateral Damage

The most provocative piece I’ve seen on drones in Pakistan was published last week. Not the most detailed, well researched article (the New Yorker takes the cake so far) but certainly the most confrontational. Farhat Taj writes in the Daily Times that International media, including American and Pakistani reports critical of drone use are totally unfounded. Vehemently, Taj writes:

The people of Waziristan are suffering a brutal kind of occupation under the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is in this context that they would welcome anyone, Americans, Israelis, Indians or even the devil, to rid them of the Taliban and al Qaeda”

It’s a grand, almost inconceivable statement given that Anti Americanism is on a rapid rise and India / Pakistan are widely considered notorious Arch Nemesis in international relations today.  Taj says inhabitants of Waziristan actually “welcome” drone attacks and dismisses all accusations of civilian casualties as Taliban propaganda. Basing this on the idea that almost no media are allowed in the area, she concludes there is no verifiable evidence, and therefore no reason for concern of civilian casualties. But mere logic would indicate otherwise. Although surgical, drones are not so precise to as to obliterate one individual at a time. When they strike, the range of damage inflicted by any drone is bound to cause peripheral damage, destroying more than just a singular terrorist.

Taj also too vehemently dismisses the concern that drones infringe on Pakistan’s sovereignty. She says greater Pakistan is oblivious to the more pressing priority of wiping out Taliban. And while I agree the Taliban is inflicting profound, perpetual and grave damage on Waziristan, greater Pakistan’s perceptions are important and not to be overlooked so easily.

Waziristan is but a fraction of Pakistan. If the majority of Pakistani’s see drones as an infringement of sovereignty, future cooperation with strategically poised Pakistan can become difficult. The alliance is already waning and one of politics’ golden rules is: perceptions matter. Whether or not there are exact numbers of civilian casualties, Pakistani’s are strongly against unmanned aircraft dropping bombs in their territory. Regardless of circumstances, the perception of an alliance with America, and our War on Terror is endangered by the drones. Hence arguments that drones are counter productive.

At what cost are we using drones to wipe out a few key leaders from militant and extremist groups? Might we accomplish the same success in hunting down terrorists by employing Pakistani forces to take these guys out themeslves using close cooperation with our counter terrorism, intelligence and military operations?

Some already argue that Islamabad tacitly works with the United States on drones in the north, however, the official and public stance of the Pakistani government is of staunch disapproval of drones. It’s a fair argument because without Islamabad’s approval, the United States would be in violation of international law, and protocol in using drones in Waziristan minus Pakistsan’s approval. So I buy the argument that Islamabad works closely in using drones in the north. But the fact that the government goes to the extent of constantly assuring its public that they disapprove of drones on record, is testimony to how offensive the use of unmanned aircrafts are in Pakistan.

So while our heightened use of drones might be effective in obliterating key leaders from the Taliban ranks for success in the immediate term, the consequences of drones entail potentially riling further anti Americanism which could compromise our interests in the future.

Cooperation is key, and I’m not convinced increased use of drones will help us engage Pakistan in the future.




  1. The issue is multidimensional and each of its aspects needs to be separately dealt with to avoid any confusion . The first and the foremost is the physical impact of drone strikes. Most of us agree on the effectiveness of these attacks. The elimination of successive TTP leaders has been more to the advantage of Pakistan rather than allied forces. The writ of the govt is being re_established slowly and gradually in the tribal belt. The miscreants are on the run, at times their both feet are in the air which makes them even more vulnerable. The drone strikes have neutralized the advantage they enjoyed in the form of better knowledge of the ground. Their leadership is in disarray and sooner than later all that’ll be left of Alqaeda and Taliban will be small, insignificant splinter groups operating independently just to prove their existence. Let me mention here that the effectiveness of drone strikes has to be exploited to its fullest by follow up actions, militarily and politically. In isolation the drone strikes will have a very limited impact.
    Coming to the next aspect___ the so called strong anti_american sentiment, this is more of a hoax than reality.Inside Pakistan the entire urdu press and a couple of newspapers in english are at the forefront of this propaganda game. Unfortunately quite a few television channels are also owned by these influential newspaper groups. The public is being fed on dis_information and we are always trying to draw conclusions that serve the cause of vested interest groups. The types of Mr Imran Khan and Jamaat e Islami leadership are the leading exponents of anti American sentiment who have no standing in the masses. Whenever the country goes to polls these elements are outrightly rejected by the people of Pakistan. Through a favorable media the pro fundamentalist elements are consistently engaged in a propaganda war following the principles of Goebels. The people of Pakistan yet again voted for liberal and progressive parties in the Feb 2008 elections and showed their disliking for the elements of regression. Another sad angle of the situation is that almost 70% of the population living in rural areas doesn’t get any representation in the media, thereby making it convenient for media managers to distort the facts to their own advantage. As i reiterated in my previous comment that the blame for collateral damage in fact goes to the miscreants as they are the ones who use people as human shield. In the heart of our hearts we all know how much independence do we enjoy! Successive military govts have trampled over the basic rights of the people.( situation has been no better during civilian rule as well)The economy has never ever moved out of the influence of World Bank and IMF. We beg from Saudis and are then forced to enforce their brand of Islam in Pakistan. Yet it’s just the drones that are a threat to our independence.
    The third dimension of the conundrum is the stance of the Pakistan govt on the issue. Regrettably, the govt, despite being convinced of the benefits of the drone strikes and actively collaborating in execution of these strikes, is forced to publicly condemn the same. Probably a weak coalition govt coming on the heels of a long military rule is not convinced to take on a hostile media head on. The ground realities at times force even strong and stable govts to exercise caution, the contradiction in word and action of the Pakistan govt can therefore be condoned as long as the action is fruitful. Nevertheless we will keep urging the govt to display strength of character and let people of Pakistan know who the actual villains are.
    There is yet another dimension of the problem essentially related to the situation in Afghanistan,thus beyond my scope. I would like to leave it to someone who knows the country and its people better.


  2. I agree with the previous comment. Though I would like to add that I believe drone attacks are more effective and precise than what Pakistani forces can do with their gunship helicopters or F-16 for that matter. So the issue of casualties is not relevant in this debate since the drones are helping minimize the collateral damage. Although I believe the issue of sovereignty should also be up for debate, since the areas where taliban safe havens are and where drones are hitting, are not totally in Pakistan’s control. Just a few days back I heard in the news that Pakistani forces had just planted Pakistan’s flag in one of the towns that was occupied by taliban. Due to the sensitivity of the sovereignty issue, I would say it might be best if Pakistan can get their hands on the drone technology and conduct the operations on its own.


  3. Once Senior Bush had questioned “Why people hate America”. Though the answer was obvious and evident at that time too but it is more today in the shape of “DRONE ATTACKS IN PAKISTAN”. These attacks are cousing more and more lasting negative impact on the masses who would be the actual rulers in the area when ever a true democratic government paved its way which is not very far away as other thinks so. It is not in the interest of USA to vipe out Taliban from the area. Better It should be done by Pakistani Forces if the Taliban or who so ever doing wrong against Pakistan interests. Sooner it is dine better for both.


  4. I posted this on another blog but some of the questions remain:

    If you look up drone attacks in Pakistan, there is actually a timeline available with the number of people killed and the names of the terrorists who were also killed or have been presumed dead after the attack. One look at that list tells me that there are more unknown casualties than there are named casualties. What I fail to understand is if there is a great deal of local support, then how come these dead remain unnamed. I mean, there must be a way for the locals to identify the dead after the drone strike is finished. Are the locals not allowed or is the area that is struck cordoned off immediately following the strike.


  5. I fail to understand the term “true democratic govt”.The process has started and should go on uninterrupted. A child needs to learn to crawl before starting to walk. Good or bad, the democratic process must be allowed to continue in Pakistan. The elected govts should complete their tenures one after the other and that’s what true democracy would be.


  6. Mr Shahab, you are right, the area is cordoned off immediately after the drone strike by taliban. The number of taliban fighters in the area runs in thousands but we know the names of only a few. These people generally don’t mix up with the locals for various reasons. Moreover the new recruits are made to change their names and then onwards live with their new identity. Remember, the taliban are not an organized army, they are under no obligation to keep a record of all their soldiers, living or dead. Well, let me assure you that collateral damage in drone strikes is much less than any other form of war, conventional or unconventional.


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