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The debate on drones

Publication Date : 21-07-2014


For years, the publicly adversarial role the Pakistanis took on drones while privately either condoning or even encouraging them was one side of a seemingly intractable problem; the other side being the arrogance of the US when it came to working with Pakistanis, who the American side seemed more interested in brushing off than finding ways to work with to address legitimate Pakistani concerns.

To be sure, drones raise many complicated questions.

To begin with, there are complex issues regarding the legality of their use in particular zones, the selection of targets, the standards of evidence gathered, presumably, through intelligence and a host of other legal and technical questions.

But those may be some of the easier ones to resolve. What about, for example, the potential for drone strikes to feed into the militant propaganda campaign and the old equation of how many new militants a dead militant creates?

And with public attitudes in much of Pakistan tending to be sceptical of or even outright hostile to American influence, do the political costs of a highly active drone programme –— as it was at its peak several years ago — outweigh the security benefits?

Yet, simply because the questions do not have any easy answers does not mean that the right balance between security and politics cannot be found at all — or that it does not change with changing circumstances.

For example, after years of pummelling al-Qaeda in the tribal areas, its presence there has surely depleted.

At the same time, the Punjabi Taliban and foreign militants linked to Central Asia have become more of a menace.

A cooperative Pak-US approach on drones, whereby the most immediate and significant threats are identified and acted against in an evolving manner, can surely further the fight against militancy in the region.

There is another aspect worth mentioning here: space for the civilian government in these security decisions.

That drone strikes stopped for several months as the government pursued peace talks with the Tehrik-i-Taliban indicates that where the civilians have the will and the space, they can also contribute positively to national security-related decisions.

Surely, if a cooperative, mutually beneficial attitude prevails at both levels — Pak-US and civil-military — then not only can vitally important relationships be stabilised and improved, the fight against militancy can also be boosted by drones that can strike in areas where troops find it difficult to operate.


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