Rethinking drone wars

Published: August 8, 2012
The writer is a correspondent for 
The Friday Times

The writer is a correspondent for The Friday Times

It is no secret that drone strikes have become a hot button issue in Pakistan. The Pakistani security establishment has publicly distanced itself from the CIA’s drone programme, while it continues to support it quietly. Pakistani military officials have called the drone attacks in its federally administered area ‘against humanity’ but at the same time, they openly ask the United States for joint control of drone operations and a transfer of drone technology. Only recently, a US team was asked to stop drone attacks and let the PAF bomb Fata instead. So clearly, we don’t seem too concerned with civilian casualties, either.

According to statistics, there have been a total of 311 drone strikes since 2004 that have resulted in a maximum of 2,887 deaths. However, these figures will always remain controversial because of the lack of access of human rights organisations to Fata. However, what’s not controversial is that drone attacks have had an effect. In June 2004, the first drone attack killed Nek Muhammad Wazir in Wana, South Waziristan. The next attack came almost a year later, in May 2005, killing Haitham al-Yemeni — a top al Qaeda member hiding in North Waziristan. Since that time, drones have killed bad guys ranging from Baitullah Mehsud — Pakistan’s public enemy number one — to Atiyah Abd al-Rahman. Drones have managed to kill more enemies of both the US and Pakistan than what ground offensives or any other strategy attempted since 9/11 would have managed to eliminate. Considering the tactical aspect, drones suit Pakistan militarily, too, as the ‘enemy’ had confined itself to remote and virtually non-accessible positions in North Waziristan and its bordering agencies. For example, any Pakistani ground offensive aimed at finishing off Baitullah Mehsud would have cost hundreds of the Pakistan Army soldiers their lives and would have probably led to more civilian casualties than a precise drone attack — same is the case with Ilyas Kashmiri and others.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has forged a close alliance with al Qaeda, is emerging as the biggest national security threat to both Pakistan and the US. Drone attacks, which clearly have the backing of the military establishment, continue to confine the enemy. This is proved by the cache of letters found by the Americans during the May 2 raid in which Osama bin Laden directed al Qaeda militants to avoid coming out during the day.

The counterargument on drone attacks is that they fuel more terrorism than they prevent. Understandably, there has been a backlash as a result of the drone attacks, but the fault for that lies as much with Pakistan as it does with any other country. The government’s ill-conceived policies that provided safe havens to mercenaries around the world in the 1980s and 1990s, along with the deals carried forward from the time of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s regime, have created a divided country and an area which we brand ‘semi-autonomous,’ i.e., Fata. More interestingly, while we deal with the problems of bringing this semi-autonomous area under our control, at the same time, we are fighting a worthless war for icebergs in Siachen. We need to change this state of affairs.

Pakistan needs a clear policy on drone attacks along with an above board counterterrorism policy that doesn’t pick between the good terrorists and the bad ones. For its part, the US needs to realise that any policy on drones needs to be carefully worked out with Pakistan. As it appears right now, the US seems to be settling for short-term disruptions at the expense of long-term solutions. This approach won’t eliminate the terror threat to either country.

The new DG-ISI General Zaheerul Islam’s visit to the US after resumption of the Nato supplies should be further built upon to enhance cooperation on counterterrorism and especially on safe havens wherever they may exist. It’s about time that the GHQ came out clearly on the issue of safe havens and loosened its control on foreign policy because so far, its strategies have completely backfired.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (38)

  • gp65
    Aug 8, 2012 - 9:29PM

    Well argued. Differ with you on a couple of points:
    1. You indicated that TTP is one of the key attackers not just of Pakistan but US. Not true. TTP attacks Pakistanis and Haqqanis/Afghan Taliban attack Afghans and ISAF forces. Until at least a year back, US did its part in not allowing TTP to settle in Afghanistan while despite taking billions of dollars Pakistan continued to provide safe havens to Haqqanis. So now USA is giving Pakistan a taste of its own medicine by turning a blind eye to TTP safe havens in Afghanistan.
    2. You say US is settling for a short-term disruption (using drones) rather than long-term solutions for which it must co-opt Pakistan. The fact is that there were practically no drones until 2007. US was trying hard to co-opt Pakistani establishment. However, Pakistan’s policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound has lost it credibility. Mike Mullen who was a strong advocate for co-ordinating strategy with Pakistan was disillusioned by the time he retired and he gave a statement in Senate hearing that Haqqanis were a veritable arm of ISI.


  • Hedgefunder
    Aug 8, 2012 - 9:36PM

    Does any one in their right mind think that US will either give up on this attacks or even consider joint ops with Pakistan Army, are simply living in yet another illusion !
    These strikes seem to have been effective and rather successful in eradicating the undesirable elements in NW & Border regions. There is always a price to pay for this and that sometimes come in form of innocent being victims, but one has to look at the bigger picture here, had Pak Army been able to deal with these elements instead of calling them Assets, that may not have been the case.
    Secondly, Why are there so many foreigners in that area ? Its not exactly an ” Tourist Destination ” and are they all residing there legally with valid visas and passports ?
    That’s the question that Pak Army & Govt need to answer first, as after all this is their so called ” Sovereign Territory ” !
    Lastly in regards to Joint Ops , well that’s been tried & tested by US and the results raised more questions about Pak Army !


  • Yasir Khan
    Aug 8, 2012 - 9:47PM

    Finally a piece which exposes the truth and propaganda. Good work!Recommend

  • Cautious
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:43PM

    An article which pontificates the obvious and suggest a solution that is vague and impracticable. I would observe that while drone attacks may be a convenient lighting rod for anti Americanism the elimination of drone attacks would have little impact on that sentiment. The man on the street doesn’t like America – doesn’t believe that 911 was caused by Muslim extremist – has fond feelings for OBL – is pro Taliban – and believes that most things wrong in Pakistan stem from foreign influence with the USA high on that list.


  • Vikas
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:46PM

    As long as US drones fly over Pakistan, India will be safe from terrorism. Thank You America.


  • 3rdRockfromtheSun
    Aug 8, 2012 - 11:01PM

    So the drone attacks are helping both countries yet your govt does not have the guts to openly say so but put the blame on the US, just to gain cheap popularity? And given your govt / ISI’s public and private record on past drone strikes (recall the US general indicating that when they gave you intel on a proposed strike, they noticed all the militants swiftly evacuating the area before the strike actually happened), why should they trust you? Unless the US is convinced (by actions, not words alone) that your govt / ISI has finally given up the “good militant / bad militant” doctrine, expect the one sided attacks to continue.


  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Aug 8, 2012 - 11:44PM

    You can’t have it both ways , you criticize and applaud at the same time both US and Pakistan for drone attacks. You also conveniently forgot to mention how many innocent civilians has been killed in these drone attacks, some how the drones can’t distinguish the near by innocent civilians, of course the Americans call it collateral damage. Why don’t you ask those who has lost children, parents, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters by this collateral damage, I am sure you don’t have the guts to travel to tribal areas and find out for yourself how many innocent civilians has been killed and destroyed their loved ones lives and property. I am a Pukhtun and understand the callous mind of people like you unless the same happens to your family but you are living in safe place, do you?


  • AZW
    Aug 8, 2012 - 11:51PM

    Well written. What Ali has pointed out is what is conveniently overlooked by the ghairatmand Pakistani commentators in their frequent exhortations against violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

    For the start, drones are part of a war; a war that was brought about by Jihadis from all across the globe against the West (and especially the United States). By proxy, Jihad against Western “lackey” governments also began that resulted in bombings in Saudi Arabia, and Egyptian Embassy bombing in Islamabad. The Jihad against United States was formally declared in 1997 by Bin Laden (with a good measure that all US civilians were kosher to be killed) and for the next four years Jihadis attacked the USA with abandon in Persian Gulf, in Africa and finally in the United States.

    The war came duly back to the Jihadis in 2001 and they scuttled to the Tribal Areas in Pakistan. Jihadis have since then strived to eliminate the traditional Maliks of the region and have used the Pakistani territory to launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan and across the world.

    Never ever have I heard the ghairatmand media to exhort against the Jihadis. Never ever I have heard them lamenting that Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs and assortment of international violent Islamists reside inside Pakistani territory and use it for their international network of religiously mandated violence. Heck, the writ of the state vanished from those regions a long time ago. But never a peep was heard on that outright violation of Pakistani geographical sovereignty.

    This is war, declared by both parties against each other. If we need no part of it, we can make sure that none of the combatants use our land and resources to fight it. But as Ali has pointed out, the primary fault lies with our indecisive security leadership that is too confused and indecisive to realize who is the enemy of Pakistan in the first place. The security leadership signed one peace pact after another with the Jihadis, until those pacts were broken. The leadership took no action until Swat and Buner were overrun. Pakistan’s response has been just that; a series of reactive measures. The equivocation is mind boggling. Sadly, our loathing of United States of America never allows us to realize that terrorism emanating from within our borders will attract retribution. After all, Taliban (including Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Chapter) were considered good guys by almost 2/3rd of Pakistanis as late as 2006.

    Drones are here as long as Pakistan remains indecisive against the militants. Once Pakistan shakes off its policies of strategic assets and proxy militias (allowed as long as they pose no threat to us), Pakistan will begin dealing with the situation with purpose and focus. Until then, drones, and the world will continue to fill in and deal firmly with the scourge of religious militants using our lands.


  • Hedgefunder
    Aug 9, 2012 - 12:54AM

    ET, Why the Mods are not capable of acknowledging the facts when presented to publish the comments ?
    Its not easy to face the truth, but surely its better medicine than dropping dead, and rest assure no medicine is Halal either !


  • numbersnumbers
    Aug 9, 2012 - 1:09AM

    @naeem khan Manhattan,Ks:
    You “conveniently forget” about the some 40,000 (INNOCENT) Pakistanis killed over the last decade by those “assets”, who reside in their safe havens INSIDE PAKISTAN!
    YOU can’t have it both ways, either remove the safe havens by reasserting full government/military control over the FATA regions, OR those “assets” will continue to draw drone attacks down upon that same area of Pakistan!


  • Aryabhat
    Aug 9, 2012 - 3:10AM

    Actually – a sensible article! Well written!

    It wuld help if Pakistan tries to punch according to its weight/capability.

    Problem arises when Pakistan sees itself as centre of universe and………………


  • Ijaz Mir
    Aug 9, 2012 - 3:16AM

    Drone attach is a blessing . Government of Pakistan has no control in North and south waziristan.All Pakistani criminals take refuge in Waziristan. People kidnap for ransom are taken to Waziristan. Thousand of Pakistani army personal has been killed. Baitullah Masood was killed by drone attach who allegedly killed Benazir, I do agree that some innocent people are also killed.I feel very sorry for them. But this whole game started by TTP Sending Suicide bombers to Pakistan and killing innocent people. Even NATO and American goes away this war is not going to finish., It is now war of survival for Pakistan. TTP will never negotiate with Pakistani Infidels. They will turn Pakistan into a 5Th century Caliphate State. People of Pakistan should decide to Join TTP and live aver happily or live in a democratic state of Pakistan. In the end thanks USA to help Pakistan for killing wanted TTP criminals.


  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Aug 9, 2012 - 4:52AM

    @AZW: It looks like you are the mouthpiece of PPP or some organization financed by you know who. What bothers me that you people hide behind factious names and abbreviations and don’t want anyone to know who you are and with whom you are affiliated and above all who is paying your salaries. Long winded comments with out any substance. Just ask the question, how many innocent Pukhtuns has been killed by these drones while US call it collateral damage.As you say that it is a war , then the people of FATA has the right to inflict as much pain on invaders who are killing their innocent civilian kith and kin. Well it is just a war, the 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed and sure it was just a war.


  • Aug 9, 2012 - 5:54AM

    Sharing these wise words!


  • vasan
    Aug 9, 2012 - 5:56AM

    I wish the author had also written about the numerous bomb attacks made by Pakistan in FATA and Waziristan during the past 5 years and the total numer of terrorists they have killed along with collateral damages. That would have put the drones in the right perspective


  • Muhammad Wasim
    Aug 9, 2012 - 11:22AM

    very sensible and brave – drones works


  • Maham Zakir
    Aug 9, 2012 - 11:25AM

    Ali shb should be appluaded for this as he says the truth – we need to understand that drone is just a tool used by many.


  • Ex-PPP
    Aug 9, 2012 - 2:24PM

    You start reading comments … everything looks good … and then sigh an indian comment. Very irritating creatures!


  • Justin Truthful
    Aug 9, 2012 - 3:55PM

    Think how peace can be brought to FATA, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Stop justifying this or that sides actions.


  • Hedgefunder
    Aug 9, 2012 - 5:29PM

    You start reading comments … everything looks good … and then sigh an indian comment.

    They are too concerned as to where you are heading and the state of neigbourhood, hence they are here ! Get one thing straight in your head, that the day will come when you will realise that the sugar daddy has had enough of you as well as your all weather friend, as they simply do not believe in freebies ! Then the time will come when you start to acknowledge that after all we have same DNA prior to partition and this was a big Mistake ! This is not that far away either, as your basic economic survival is dependant on others, you call friends, so soon you will find out the Reality, and the question is, can you face the Reality ?
    Its not good, Trust me, even thou i am in UK, i would put money on the facts above ! Recommend

  • Maham Zakir
    Aug 9, 2012 - 6:07PM

    I dont agree with the perspective that drones kill India specific targets as to Pakistan govt they are the good guys and thye live in shelters in urban Pakistan protected by Pakistan however, what’s the truth and I think Mr.Chishti had pointed towards is this criminal security doctrine which should change.


  • Jeffmahagaonvi
    Aug 9, 2012 - 6:16PM

    Well articulating article, thank you Mr.Chisti. Our country is in war with
    Jihadi-terrorist who have killed thousands of innocent children, womwn,
    men and hundreds of security forces.
    In this global war against Jihadi-terrorism, NATO forces are also helping
    us to get rid of this menace of terrorism. And Drones, which is being
    used against jehadies is most sucessful weapon to diminish the terrorist.
    As for as the collateral damage is concerned, the NATO forces are
    trying to minimize.
    As long as the local & international jihadies are present in our beloved
    country neither can we have peace & prosperity nor preserve our sovereignty.
    Live with love-Let democracy work


  • Maham Zakir
    Aug 9, 2012 - 6:47PM

    Finally, drone attacks are aimed at killing militants in a targeted manner compared to suicide blasts which are conducted by the same militants to kill innocent people indiscriminately. More than 35,000 people in Pakistan have died due to religious terrorism and yet our media and urban middle class is more worried about drones which aim at perpetrators of those horrendous crimes. We are worried of violations of sovereignty whereas the sovereignty in real sense does not even exist.

    Pakistanis and some of the western liberals need to look things in proper perspective and they will find out that by and large drone attacks have actually helped.


  • Yasir Khan
    Aug 9, 2012 - 6:49PM

    Is the sovereignty really violated? The answer is a tricky one because in purely theoretical terms perhaps it is. But realistically it is not violated because the areas where drones are aimed do not have the effective writ of the Pakistani state. In real terms sovereignty is not there in the first place because if it was there those areas would not have become open sanctuaries for the militants. Sovereignty is underpinned by state’s monopoly over physical violence and virtual absence of state in a state syndrome. And those areas depict failure when measured against these yardsticks.


  • Mozart
    Aug 9, 2012 - 11:17PM


    You mean partition of India was a mistake? Since you seem to be more concerned about Pakistan than Pakistanis can you please tell me why we are economically dependent on others ?Recommend

  • Mozart
    Aug 9, 2012 - 11:42PM

    @Maham Zakir:

    “Religious terrorism” :O how can this be religious terrorism when both the victim and the murderer claim to be Muslims? There is no concept of killing innocent people in Islam. Suicide bombing (which incidentally has nothing to do with ISLAM) kills innocent people (agreed). Drone strikes kill suicide bombers (agreed) and they also kill innocent people (agreed? If not then lets just nuke them, drones are taking too much time).


  • Hedgefunder
    Aug 10, 2012 - 1:54PM

    please tell me why we are economically dependent on others ?

    I suggest you refer this question to your own politicians and the Army as they are responsible for everything that has occured in last six decades to this Country.
    It is also the fault of its people, who have consistently managed to give the mandate to such corrupt and inept politicians !


  • Mozart
    Aug 10, 2012 - 5:24PM

    “I suggest you refer this question to your own politicians and the Army as they are responsible for everything that has occured in last six decades to this Country.
    It is also the fault of its people, who have consistently managed to give the mandate to such corrupt and inept politicians !”
    I agree with you on this one, especially the people part. You didn’t answer the other question. Anyways, the problem is social issues and not the lack of resources in the country, right? Hopefully, we can solve our social issues soon and then we won’t be dependent anymore. I think Pakistan is on the verge of a major political advancement as for the first time in our history a political party is going to complete its tenure. In spite of the problems I would say that things are going in the positive direction.


  • Hedgefunder
    Aug 10, 2012 - 6:15PM

    Ok, Remember thou, that when Clergy enters Politics, its a very bad sign for any Nation.
    Unfortunately for Pakistan, Zia invited the Wahabism to an society which actually was pretty cosmopolitan, hence the result of that is what Pakistan is living with today ! All for lure of petrodollars, which incidently did not develop this Nation but were rather squandered to the whims of those in power for personal & political gains! Hence the lack of transparency and accountability in every institution.
    Pakistan today possibly has more Madrassas then main stream Educational Facilities for the current and future generations, as it is they already have an generation which can be classed as illiterate at present.
    Secondly the basic treatment of women is also an issue as they possibly make up nearly 40% of the population and yet are not contributing to the economy due to social and religous issues ! This is a very big loss to the Nation.
    These are the issues which really the Pakistanis need to address first and foremost, during the upcoming elections


  • Dr.A.K.Tewari
    Aug 10, 2012 - 9:12PM

    An article having clear indication towards the path through which the Himalayan problem facing the subcontiant can have a solution in next five years . Ofcorse ,we should start from Siachin to deal with it .


  • Dr.A.K.Tewari
    Aug 10, 2012 - 9:32PM

    ” we have to change the criminal security doctrine ”

    One more indication toward a hope .


  • gp65
    Aug 10, 2012 - 9:56PM

    @Mozart: I agree that the likelihood of an elected government completing ts full term is a big deal. Even if Zardari is inept – this was an importan achievement, nor the only one in the last 5 years laying the foundations for a federal and democratic Pakistan. A CEC selected by consensu, electroal rolls that everyone believes in, 18th amendment giving more resources to the state outlining the federal character of the country, a broad political consensus (which sadly the army has not yet bought into) for peace and commerce with India are all very positive moves.

    YEs Pakistan does have several huge problems – extreme radicalization and polarization of society, civil military imbalance with disprportionate allocation tosecurity compared to social issues, load shedding, low tax to GDP issue. But problems created over 65 years wil not get solved in 90 days. I hope that true democracy takes root in Pakistan. That would be good for not only Pakistan but also my country – India.


  • Mozart
    Aug 11, 2012 - 12:26AM

    I agree to everything you have said. I would just like to add that one election won’t be enough as already alluded to by @gp65. Pakistan needs to take slow and steady. Hopefully, we will turn into a moderate society eventually.

    I am not politically aligned with PPP yet I think PPP deserves the credit in this regard. I agree with your analysis. I am willing to give benefit of doubt if in 90 days a positive trend is set. The problems created over 65 years will take at least 10-15 years, if not more, to go away completely.


  • Adnan Arshad Mansoori
    Aug 11, 2012 - 8:14PM

    @Vikas: As we know Afghanistan/Pakistan has earned the title “Graveyard of Empires” in the result of intervention. The sooner the US/NATO get out of there the better.

    But the people like U this is beyond your wisdom Taliban/PAKISTAN & CHINA just wish to American/NATO Administration keep busy at South Asia till their respective penniless position, before writing such absurdity kindly let me know what is the cost of per soldier regarding boarding & lodging at this region moreover what is the cost of maintenance of Drone Planes or Per Cost Fire, for your kind information every giant size corporate institute is being BAILED OUT at US/UK just WoT at Afghanistan/Pakistan.

  • Dr.A.K.Tewari
    Aug 11, 2012 - 9:24PM

    @ Adnan , cost can never be a factor in correcting the historic mistakes . Graves of any type has meaning for you both christians and muslims but not for us . The war against terrorism will have to meet it’s destiny .
    Perhaps we will prefer to survive .


  • Dr.A.K.Tewari
    Aug 11, 2012 - 9:53PM

    Center lies here in India ..Bareilvi will never allow wahabi to prevail in their teretory . I feel so .


  • yasir Khan
    Sep 3, 2012 - 12:22AM

    Nice ali!!…


  • Adnan Arshad Mansoori
    Sep 3, 2012 - 11:24AM

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