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?