Pakistan’s Sickly Drone Problem

by Joshua Foust on 10/1/2012 · 2 comments

Last week, a group of law students and their professors released a study about drones. Needless to say, it was what you’d expect from law students trying to address a social issue: it was full of holes and made very little sense but had great emotional impact. So of course I had to pick it apart.

The authors did not conduct interviews in the FATA, but Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Peshawar. The direct victims they interviewed were contacted initially by the non-profit advocacy group Foundation for Fundamental Rights, which is not a neutral observer (their explicit mission is to end the use of drones in Pakistan). The report relies on a database compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which relies on media accounts for most of its data. The authors discount the utility of relying on media accounts, since media in Pakistan rely on the Pakistani government for information (reporters are not allowed independent access to the FATA). Even accepting their description of the BIJ data as the most “reliable,” these data are highly suspect.

And so on. Regular readers can guess what else I said, though the end of the piece was a speculative piece about better alternatives to drones. There aren’t many, at least if you accept the assumption that the U.S. must do something about al Qaeda and associated groups in the FATA. For PBS I explained why Pakistan’s unique geopolitics make any solution extremely difficult:

Without any kind of institutionalized state, there are few methods available for countering militancy and terrorism within the FATA. One technique is operating through the Pakistani Army, whose army campaigns have been incredibly violent. The results have been tangible: thousands of dead Pakistani soldiers (including two generals), devastation to villages and towns in the area, collective retribution against entire communities, and millions of displaced peoples who fled the fighting.

Another possibility is drone strikes. Strikes may seem like a good option — next to the Pakistani Army, who have displaced people from their homes by the million, or the Pakistani Taliban who violently impose harsh and radical religious rules on the local population. However, the use of drones does not come without cost.

I’m left scratching my head at the end of that piece: without substantial political reform on the part of Pakistan, what options are there? It leaves the uncomfortable conclusion that, despite their costs, drones represent the least-bad option for trying to counter terrorism in the region.

Can any of you think of something better?


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 2 comments }

FreedomFighter October 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Take easy, Joshua! Obama didn’t say his two daughters sleep in Pakistan. LOL!

Bruce Clark October 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Dear Joshua – i read the article “ASk the experts : drones” and would like to ask you about the supposed permission that the Pakistan government has given the US to lauch drone strikes on their sovereign territory. I have always wondered about this.It seems, from what you guys say, that the ISI and the military are complicit but quiet about their complicity and that the parliament has expressly criticised, so where does the authority come from? Has this been stated explicitly by the PM or the President? Please can you or one of your experts clear this up for me?
A final comment – some of this talk of acceptable civilian losses seems quite cold-blooded to me. Hypothetically, if the victims were US citizens, would you be so willing to accept such civilian losses( with an e acute).
Another thing – many people around the world indeed do not assume that the US should be in there taking out people with drones. Apart from the(perhaps arguable) illegality of the invasion on Afghanistan, the US has had more than a decade to take out bad guys – ( its also debatable whether the ones that are being killed have any designs on the US – although the drone policy may be altering this)- so maybe they should just get out of these places. Just a thought.
Anyway, Joshua, i really enjoy admire your writing and hope you dont’ mind my points – if you could answer my query, would be most grateful – thanks and all the best from NZ – Bruce

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