Time to Re-Think Drones


drone kills Hakimullah Mehsud

After tens of thousands of deaths and Taliban’s refusal to accept offers of peace talks, national consensus is finally beginning to come around on the need for defensive operations against militants. As these discussions are ongoing and the military begins to outline its plans for operations, it is also time to re-think our position on drones.

I know what you’re thinking – drones kill people and we are tired of killing – but we are beyond that point now. Thousands of Pakistanis including innocent women and children are being killed mercilessly by Taliban militants and they have vowed to continue their attacks. We must fight back, and fighting back will require the use of military force. The only question, then, is what that military force will look like.

Most recently, anti-Taliban operations have mostly consisted of F-16 strikes. These are effective because they can quickly reach militant targets that would be otherwise impossible to penetrate due to the difficult geography in North Waziristan. There is a trade off, however, because F-16 strikes are notorious for resulting in large numbers of civilian casualites. In 2009, airstrikes intended to target militants killed dozens of civilians, and similar complaints have been made against recent air strikes also. There is an alternative to F-16 strikes, however it has become unnecessarily controversial since the past few years. I am speaking, of course, of drones.

Despite their bad reputation, drones actually kill fewer civilians than standard military operations including F-16 strikes. This has been confirmed by our own military.

General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood said in a briefing here: “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.

“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”

The Military’s 7-Dvision’s official paper on the attacks till Monday said that between 2007 and 2011 about 164 predator strikes had been carried out and over 964 terrorists had been killed.

Of those killed, 793 were locals and 171 foreigners, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos and Moroccans.

Even the Taliban have admitted the effectiveness of drones.

The one thing that impressed [the Taliban tactician] were the missile strikes by drones — virtually the only American military presence felt inside Pakistan. “The drones are very effective,” he said, acknowledging that they had thinned the top leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the area. He said 29 of his friends had been killed in the strikes.

Therefore, the precision and effectiveness of drones is not a question. Actually, most analysts agree that the focus on civilian casualties from drones was really just a way to gain the upper hand in negotiations over the real issue, which was always national sovereignty. Namely, the Americans carrying out drone strikes going beyond the initial agreements and carrying out drone strikes without fully informing and cooperating with our own forces.  This is something we have the power to change.

Much of the controversy over drones has been the result of the programs secrecy. Despite denials by both the US and Pakistan Army about the program, we know from Wikileaks and Gen Musharraf’s own admission that there has been a long history of agreement and cooperation about drones. Those agreements and cooperations may have broken down, but it is time to re-think whether replacing F-16 strikes with a new agreement on drones could reduce civilian casualties and bring a quicker resolution to the war against Taliban. We support our military, and if Gen Raheel will take the nation into confidence on drones, we will stand by them as they put and end to the Taliban menace for good.



Author: Muhammad Butt