Feb 18, 2009

Drones in Pakistan

In the wake of US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s amazing revelation that drones are flown from a base in Pakistan, the unmanned vehicles have been used to strike in the Kurram Agency for the first time on Monday.
Taken together, the two events indicate at least one thing: the drones are here to stay. This makes it necessary to assess the military and political implications of an expanded, prolonged presence of drones in the skies above Pakistan.
Start with the military aspect. Drones are a commander’s dream: they are quite accurate, save soldiers’ lives by keeping boots off the ground and are low-cost. On the ground, evidence suggests the drones are increasingly successful in targeting militants. Collateral damage remains an issue, especially since the militants live and hide among the ordinary locals, but also appears to be diminishing.
Yet, for all their military potential, the drone strikes are victims of a horribly ill-advised game of cover-up. Through her spokesman Senator Feinstein has denied she had indicated where the drones are based at the congressional hearing.
On their part, Pakistani officials have flatly rejected the senator’s claim. But the retraction and denials are scarcely credible. When the chairperson of the US Senate Intelligence Committee says, ‘As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base,’ and the person she is addressing is the national intelligence director, who does not deny the statement, one can assume that drones are in fact being flown from Pakistani soil.
What isn’t clear is what the Americans and Pakistanis were thinking all along. Given the immense scrutiny that every strike attracts, it was always likely the location of the drones would eventually become public.
What then? We are seeing that scenario unfold right now: a deeply embarrassed government reduced to denials nobody believes and a potent stick handed to the government’s opponents to beat it with and damage its credibility in the public eye.
Fact is, while drone strikes may be militarily beneficial, they also have to be politically palatable. American operated drones are unequivocally bad (few states could sell the unilateral bombing of their territory by an ally to their public); Pakistani operated drones would be the best-case scenario; while jointly operated drones would be politically nettlesome but likely manageable.
The Americans must realise that the local political fallout isn’t just the Pakistan government’s or army’s problem; unless the two centres of power here
are stable, the Americans will not have an effective partner in fighting militancy. Now that the secret is out, the best course would be to grant Pakistan some public ownership of the drone-strike programme and expand the targets to include militants fighting the state here.
That way the state can make the argument that the drones are targeting a common enemy, and not just the militants that worry America.

No comments:

Post a Comment