The drone strike on July 10 in Datta Khel, North Waziristan, that killed six suspected foreigners, has come on the heels of the announcement by our DG ISPR who, on July 1, stated that after the movement/displacement of the people from North Waziristan, “It’s very clear that those left inside are only terrorists”. It is also the first drone strike since the army began Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan.
Call it extrajudicial killing, state terrorism, targeted killing or anything else, drone strikes by the US in the North Waziristan region are a great military aid rather than an act being condemned and bracketed as the violation of our sovereignty. I say this because if the mission of the army has changed — it is now focused on fighting to the end the battle of attrition with the Taliban.
There is no better counterterrorism tool in the world today than an American Predator drone. Its military use by Pakistan in the past, as a ‘secretly approved and publicly denounced policy’ has been known to all for a very long time now. So the question is: is the military use of drones a continuation of that policy? If not, I wish it is because, if anything, Pakistan needs these drone strikes today in a joint effort with the US forces to target fleeing terrorists.
When a state consents to another state killing fleeing terrorists on its territory, can this be termed a violation of its sovereignty? Someone in the government has been green-lighting the drone strikes in the past. At that time, due to the civilian presence in the targeted areas, the prospects of collateral damage were immense. This won’t be the case now, not when the innocent civilians have abandoned North Waziristan, thus qualifying it as war zone that is seen only as a place that contains a threat.
Moreover, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) definitely lie within the state borders of Pakistan. If being a sovereign state it is to allow self-government in a part of the state, then we are definitely not sovereign. Has any central government ever extended effective control there? Known as ilaqa ghair, the rules of the state and its writ hardly ever applies there.
If we have finally swapped sides and chosen to call all Taliban as the enemy of the state, then the aphorism ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ no more applies to us as a state. In fact, it was not the death of over 2,500 people in US drone strikes that made us less sovereign. It was because of our inability to deny the insurgents/militants the freedom to militarily function and operate from Fata, many of whom were considered the state’s ‘friends’.
Technology has compressed battlefields’ time and space. Drones are the tools of the American military reach that allows them to use lesser force and create more effect. We will see more and more use of this technology after the departure of American troops and Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) from this region.
The drone operator who pushed the button that knocked out the six foreign terrorists in Datta Khel was sitting 7,500 miles away in 732nd Operations Group at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Only a 1.7 seconds delay between the operator’s command and the aircraft’s response separated the hellfire missile from proceeding on its journey to the targeted area. That kind of speed is the essence of success against an enemy that resorts to hit-and-run operations.
Fighting the battle of our survival, we need all the international assistance to come out on the winning side. All those who question as part of their ‘law fare’ the various methods being used to achieve success in this ‘irregular warfare’ must remember the price we have paid as a nation to be where we are today.
Yes — the generals know that ‘the conduct of just war relies on adhering to the principles of distinction, proportionality and military necessity’, but this war is about more than being just. It is seeing that all terrorists that challenge the state of Pakistan are completely eliminated and annihilated. To achieve this, reliance on the effective employment and use of American drones is a great military advantage.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2014.
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