Raza Habib Raja
Lately there has been a debate over whether drones are a friend or foe. In response to a “pro drone” article written by Pirzada Hasaan Hashmi, two well-articulated articles written by Mariam Kizilbash and Faisal Moghul have appeared in the Express Tribune, a leading English daily in Pakistan. . Both the authors have raised their objections to the drone attacks and have based their arguments on several points such as loss of innocent lives, illegality of such attacks and availability of better mechanism for the elimination of terrorists. Readers of this article are requested to please read the aforementioned articles to understand the background and context of this particular article.
Before I present my case, let me be absolutely clear that drones do result in the loss of innocent lives. To deny an obvious reality would tantamount to intellectual dishonesty.
Like all military options, drone attacks also entail collateral damage and all the objections in this regard are valid. Moreover, as Ms Kizilbash has pointed out that these drone attacks are at times based on erroneous information and therefore end up killing only the innocent. Mughal has raved about mimicking terrorists in our zest to kill them and stressed on the need to try them through courts. He has given examples of Aimal Kansi and others who were caught and then tried in court. Though divorced from ground realities, his statement is morally appealing and based on “fair trial” legal principle.
Well as I have already acknowledged that loss of life is tragic but in my opinion the situation is akin to kidnapper hostage scenario where you have to take action to prevent greater loss of life and to avoid getting blackmailed into complete appeasement. Let us not forget that drones may be killings innocent as a collateral damage but are aimed at militants. If
killing innocents was the main objective then I am sure USA has much powerful weaponry at its disposal. Drone by design is a precision weapon and is supposed to be used for surgical strikes. If drone strikes are killing innocents then the solution is better intelligence.
What alternative do you have as far as dealing with militants who are hiding in areas which are difficult to control administratively due to its terrain? Now peace deals have been tried a number of times and have failed. The military alternative would be a full scale invasion which would entail much larger loss of life. The last time when Pakistani military was used for that purpose many of us were in protest for using our army against “our own” people. So when peace deals have failed and large scale military action by Pak army is not desirable for political reasons then what is the alternative?
How do you deals with those militants who kill indiscriminately and then openly take responsibility? Yes it is easy to talk about lofty principles of “fair trials” but these notions under these circumstances simply do not apply. We are not dealing with “victims” here but inhuman elements which kill mercilessly. Even as I am writing these sentences, the electronic as well as print media are constantly flashing headlines of merciless killings of Shias. How do you deal with such monsters?
And by the way, how do you even capture such militants? Even to capture them you would again need a combination of intelligence and military strikes. Aimal Kansi was not captured from lawless terrain of tribal areas but from a hotel in Islamabad. Not every militant is going to give that kind of opportunity.
Do you really think legal way is the right way? Do you really think that it is even possible to actually capture so many militants and that too without some sort of military action? Are we being really realistic when we talk about legal trials or are we living in an alternative universe?
In my opinion, the root cause of all the hue and cry about drones is less to do with their legal status or even collateral damage. It is most probably underpinned by feeling of national humiliation. We feel that our sovereignty is violated when a much loathed foreign power like USA is attacking areas falling under our political boundaries. The fact that it is attacking THOSE militants who have targeted our own population repeatedly perhaps does not make much difference to us.
We have rather naïve understanding about sovereignty. Sovereignty is underpinned by writ of the state which does not exist in the areas where drones attacks are taking place. If the state had any writ then these areas would have not become sanctuaries for the militants. In fact over the years a series of Pakistani governments have literally watched helplessly militants using these areas to promote terrorism and have largely been unable to mount a full scale military operation due to fear of large scale loss of lives and negative political repercussions. And the militants have fully capitalized on the inability of the successive governments to take any action. If anything, these drone attacks if rightly directed through better intelligence can help Pakistani state establish its writ through elimination of the rogue elements.
And by the way do we really think that these attacks are taking place WITHOUT any approval of our government and army? Let me remind all of you that before OBL raid these predator drones were being flown from Shamsi base in Baluchistan. Obviously drones strikes launched from there had to be approved by the Pakistani government as well as the armed forces. Even now these drones are not shot when they enter the Pakistani airspace. How come sovereignty is violated when drones are being flown with some sort of approval?
But instead of viewing things through realistic lenses we are just blinded by abstract concepts and American hatred. Over the years, our urban middleclass has developed a knee jerk reaction where anything connected with United States provokes hyper reaction and any sort of rational deliberation becomes very difficult.