In a strike that is sure to reopen the debate over the morality and efficacy of drones, the US reportedly killed Badar Mansoor — the man believed to be the head of al Qaeda in Pakistan — in a drone attack on February 9. Among the crimes Mansoor is held responsible for is the attack in Lahore in 2010 that killed 100 members of the Ahmedi community. He is also believed to have run training camps in North Waziristan that sent militants to fight in Afghanistan. If indeed Mansoor has been killed in this drone strike, then it is a significant blow to al Qaeda’s operations in Pakistan and a victory in the fight against militancy. But this does not mean that it spells vindication for the controversial drone programme.
For one, we cannot be sure if Mansoor has actually been killed. Information coming out of the tribal areas is notoriously unreliable and even though the US seems adamant that they got Mansoor, Pakistani authorities have been hesitant to confirm it. As we know from the experience of Hakeemullah Mehsud, who seems to be declared dead in a drone attack every few months before turning up alive, there is no way to be certain that the intended target has been hit.
Even if Mansoor has been killed, this does not entirely justify the use of drone technology in Pakistan, since recent studies by investigative journalists have found that even with the supposed precision of drones, mostly civilians end up being killed in the attacks. However, this strike does indicate that both parties are cooperating with each other in the war on terror, especially since Mansoor was believed to be involved in attacks on various military installations. In the long run, it is important for the US to get Pakistan to reopen their supply routes to Afghanistan and to have a healthy relationship again. As for Pakistan, it should develop the capability itself which allows it to reach and target militants and terrorists in the areas that are currently covered by the drones. That would resolve the controversial and very emotive issue of sovereignty once and for all.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2012.