Tag Archives | drone

Drones are the right choice

The least bad option for targeting jehadis in Pakistan

Drone strikes by the US inside Pakistani territory are controversial, to say the least. The opinions on these strikes are heavily polarised. Those opposing drone strikes make the following arguments. One, these drone strikes kill innocents. Two, these strikes violate the sovereignty of Pakistan. Three, they send a wrong message to Pakistanis and create more terrorists. All these arguments have merits till we examine them closely.

Pakistani society is at such a state that nothing that the US does or doesn’t do seems to send the right message to Pakistanis. Pakistani media (rated 151 out of 175 in world free press index) can be trusted to twist any story to direct the public anger towards the US. That these drone strikes create more terrorists is an attractive idea but remains unproven by any factual research or ground reportage. Even if there were no drone strikes, there are enough grudges against the US — from Iraq or Afghanistan — that can be exploited by the jehadis to lure more young men into jehad.

The sovereignty question is again a very attractive proposition in theory. But not in practice, if you look a little closer. Pakistan’s sovereignty was not violated by the US Navy Seals team at Abbottabad but by Osama bin Laden who stayed in that city for a decade. Similarly, US would not need to fire missiles from its drones if Pakistan had the will, willingness or the capacity to act against al Qaeda and other jehadis who have formed a base in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Till 2007, al Qaeda had actually grown stronger by basing itself in these areas before US drones started disrupting its leadership. If Pakistan would have been able to uphold the sovereignty of its land against al Qaeda and other terror groups, the question of US violating Pakistan’s sovereignty would never arise.

A major source of angst and anger is over the death of innocent civilians. Some innocents are surely dying in the missiles fired by these drones. But no one has made a cogent case so far that the US is deliberately targeting innocent civilians in tribal areas. They are, to use the unfortunate military term, “collateral damage”.

But all of this still misses the fundamental point of this debate. What is the alternative to these drone strikes? Bombing raids by fighter aircraft, strafing by helicopter gunships, use of missiles or pounding by artillery fire. These are the methods used by Pakistan in Balochistan and in tribal areas against the ‘bad’ jehadis. They have all the disadvantages of drone strikes, and worse. They are far more inaccurate, more visible and would be more violative of Pakistan’s sovereignty than any pilotless aircraft.

Of course, there is another option. To leave the tribal areas of Pakistan completely untouched so that al Qaeda and its affiliates can base themselves there and spread terror across the globe. While Pakistan may be comfortable with that, the rest of the world doesn’t share that view. Countries like India, who have particularly borne the brunt of terror over the years, may not be publicly welcoming the use of US drones but would be glad that the jehadis in Pakistan’s tribal areas are unsettled due to the fear of missiles raining from the sky.

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When US took off the gloves

Drone strikes without Pakistani approval not an affront to its sovereignty.

LAT reports that the US drone attacks have become more intense, successful and effective once the US administration abandoned the policy of seeking Pakistan’s approval before launching the strikes.

Even so, officials said that the surge in strikes has less to do with expanded capabilities than with the decision to skip Pakistani approval. “We had the data all along,” said a former CIA official who oversaw Predator operations in Pakistan. “Finally we took off the gloves.”

…The breaking point came when Musharraf was forced to resign mid-August, officials said. Within days, President Bush had approved the new rules: Rather than requiring Pakistan’s permission to order a Predator strike, the agency was allowed to shoot first.

The effect was immediate. There were two Predator strikes on Aug. 31, and three more by the end of the week. CIA officials had suspected that their targets were being tipped by Pakistani intelligence to pending U.S. strikes; bypassing the government ended that concern.

Notwithstanding the voluble “official” protests by the Pakistani government, all indicators — including statements from Holbrooke and Panetta — suggest that Obama administration is going to pursue the same policy of undertaking drone attacks inside Pakistan. As far as the fuss made by Pakistani establishment, its media and their western supporters about US violating the sovereignty of Pakistan with these strikes, the answer comes from Ejaz Haider.

Sovereignty works at two levels: internal and external. In fact, much before a state invokes it vis-à-vis the outside world, it is supposed to have actualised it internally, that supposition being the basis of the very existence of a state and its claim to being such an entity.

In a situation where a state’s writ is being eroded from the inside, any attempt from the outside to restore that writ, far from an invasion of that state’s sovereignty, is an action necessary to help it reclaim its internal sovereignty.

It is somewhat intriguing that Pakistanis should consider drone attacks meant to take out the enemies of the Pakistani state as an attack on its sovereignty while that sovereignty, to quote Yeats’ take on old age, has increasingly come internally to look like “A tattered coat upon a stick”.

To be fair to the world and ourselves, if our state had not lost its internal sovereignty and thus worried everyone, we would not have seen these “attacks” on our sovereignty. The thing to do therefore, before we lecture the world on sovereignty, is to reclaim it at home.

How about starting that reclaimation with Swat, where the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has “ordered” all NGOs to immediately leave the region?

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For internal consumption only

Zardari’s warnings to Petraeus are aimed only at his domestic audience.

First, the “democratically elected” Pakistani government took offence to the cross-border raid by US ground forces inside Pakistani territory. There have been no further reports of cross-border raids by the US ground forces since. That may have been done partially to cater to Pakistani sensitivities, but certainly the main reason was because the US military might be finding such operations riskier and of limited tactical benefits vis-a-vis aerial strikes by unmanned drones.

Then, on October 29, the Pakistani government summoned the US Ambassador to Islamabad, Anne W. Patterson  to demand a halt to air strikes on its soil by American forces, saying the operations weaken the ability of the government to fight terrorism. A missile from a US drone killed 27 people in Kari Kot in Pakistan’s South Waziristan district on October 31, signifying that such démarche did little to alter US military strategy in the border areas of Pakistan.

President Zardari has repeated these warnings to General Petraeus during his maiden visit to Islamabad as the head of the US Central Command.

“The focus should be more on enhanced coordination and intelligence-sharing,” Zardari told the U.S. officials today when they met at his residence during a visit to Pakistan, according to a Pakistani government statement. The cross-border raids from Afghanistan have killed Pakistanis and destroyed property, “creating a credibility gap” as members of the public pressure their leaders to explain the U.S. actions, Zardari said.

And Petraeus’ reply was nothing more than a polite acknowledgement.

“In fact, we got certain messages with each of those we talked today and some of those were very clear and we have to take those on-board,” Petraeus said Monday, adding later, “The tone of the conversation was very frank and very forthright, as it should be.”

President Zardari and his government have little  control over the actions initiated by the US forces in Pakistani territories bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani state and its military are so dependent on US dole that any belligerence by the Pakistani security forces inviting the US wrath is likely to bring the Pakistani nation at the brink of an existential disaster.

Unlike Musharraf, Zardari is the head of a political party that runs the federal government in Pakistan. He has to per force make the right noises to address the concerns of his domestic constituency. However rather than pacifying the anti-US sentiments in the country, such publicly reported warnings by Zardari only tend to strengthen the public portrayal of the US as a satanic state that cares little for Pakistan and its elected government.

So will the drone attacks inside Pakistan by US military stop now? They may stop, but that will have nothing to do with Zardari’s warning to Petraeus and Boucher. It will only result due to a dramatic, but unlikely, shift in the US military strategy for tackling insurgency in the region. President Zardari would be hoping against hope that Dave Petraeus is the catalyst for that change in the US strategy.

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