The 309th attack by US drones in Pakistan rained down four missiles on a compound belonging to Maulana Shakirullah, whose Hafiz Gul Bahadur militant group is, local officials say, closely linked to the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan. The strike took place in the Orakzai Agency, close to its border with North Waziristan. The target was carefully selected, with the drone reported to have hovered for almost 30 minutes before releasing its cargo to kill militants, all Afghan. Their precise identities are hard to ascertain given that immediately after the strike, the Taliban cordoned off the area. Their bodies were collected and the injured were treated. Four adjacent houses were damaged.
There has recently been an upsurge in drone attacks in the tribal areas though this was only the second attack in Orakzai Agency. The last one took place in 2009, when 13 militants including some Arabs and Chechens were killed. Orakzai Agency does not share a border with Afghanistan but lies adjacent to North Waziristan, with recent reports that militant networks were setting up base there. The latest drone attack was obviously based on the knowledge that the Shakirullah outfit was based there.
Drone attacks have been making news across the country with the march staged by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf drawing global attention to the issue. There is no doubt at all that the entry of unmanned planes into our airspace is problematic. Issues of legality, sovereignty and the spread of hatred for the US all arise. The drones have created many problems. But then, so, too, have the militants they target. Atrocities committed by the Taliban and other militant outfits have killed thousands, wrecked the lives of many others and destroyed society in areas they control. The truth is that we have failed to control them, failed to contain militancy or present a strategy to do so. This is one reason why the drone strikes continue; they can be stopped only if militant forces are acted against at home and if the confidence that we are capable of tackling them is created.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2012.