In Praise of Drone Strikes

pakistanWhat I share herein are personal impressions gathered during my extensive travels in the tribal belt and my communications with the local tribesmen.

Pakistan Plays the Victim, Thoroughly Chewing the Curtains

The unmanned aircraft commonly known as drones are back in the media debate following the Washington Post report, “CIA Drone Strikes Will Get Pass in Counterterrorism Playbook.” The report suggests drone attacks in Pakistan have been declared the centerpiece of President Obama’s anti-terrorism strategy, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will be given free rein to continue its remotely-controlled war in the tribal regions.

According to the Post, CIA has been authorized to hunt for Al Qaeda and its Taliban cohorts in the tribal regions for a year or so before it, too, must play by the new counterterrorism rules for targeted killings.

As usual, following the announcement of this new counterterrorism manual, Pakistan is playing the victim, despite the fact that Pakistan has secretly acquiesced to the use of drones in tribal areas (particularly against Taliban leaders who “go off the ISI reservation,” i.e., biting the hand that feeds them). On the one hand, the military refuses to pursue foreign terrorists based in North Waziristan (though now moving to other agencies).  On the other hand it propagandizes against drone strikes using government controlled media and right wing political leaders. Thus, the Pakistani military has become a global threat, and it fails to recognize that the war on terrorism will continue to be fought, with or without its cooperation. The sooner it faces this fact, the better for Pakistan and the region.

The Reality Disconnect

It might be surprising for erudite Westerners to learn that what they hear and read in the media has nothing to do with ground realities. Pakistan’s media is not independent. It harps on the mantra that drones are horrible weapons; they have breached Pakistan’s sovereignty, killed thousands of innocent civilians, and as a result, only serve to nurture further militancy. But when the same drone kills Taliban commanders such as Baitullah Mehsud, who have inconveniently turned against Pakistan’s military establishment, a mysterious silence prevails.

For some politicians, like Imran Khan, drones have become obsession. When 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was attacked by Taliban for simply going to school, some of our mediocre TV anchors (mostly they are mediocre) and Imran Khan connected this incident with drone attacks in the tribal belt and had the outlandish temerity to suggest this little girl was an American agent. Even giving them the benefit of the doubt that such statements were merely meant in jest, they were in extremely bad taste.

Creating a jihadi army of neurotics

Last year while sitting in a restaurant in District Tank, which shares a border with South Waziristan, an old college friend from the Mehsud tribe glanced nervously over his shoulders, inched closer to me so as not be heard by other customers sipping their tea, and said, “The drone is the best weapon ever produced by human beings. It never misses the target and the people in North and South Waziristan are very happy with it. It does not uproot whole tribes and communities like gunship helicopters and mortar shells do, it does not destroy our cattle, it does not destroy our crops, it simply hits its target. There is very minimal collateral damage in such attacks. But it happens only if you are present in the room with the terrorists. Stay away from them and you are safe. Remember what we used to say at university, ‘a person is known by the company he avoids.’ ” he winked and burst into laughter.

He said the only people scared of drones are Taliban. Consequently, they neither dine together, nor sit together to crack jokes or share stories. The militants can neither attend weddings, nor go to burials. They cannot sleep at their houses, nor can they travel together in one vehicle. “Locally, drones are called ‘Da Talibano Plaar’ (Father of Taliban) as they’re the only thing that keeps them on the run for their lives, certainly not the friendly firing of Pakistani military,” he added sarcastically. The top Taliban commander, Mullah Nazir, who was recently killed by a drone strike in the Tribal belt of Pakistan, once told a friend of mine that drone strikes had rendered the Taliban completely neurotic, as they could hit them anytime anywhere. “The drones have traumatized my soldiers. There is no escape from them.”

In another instance, I enquired of a colleague from the Wazir tribe from North Waziristan, was it true that drones hit innocent civilians and thus ultimately nurture militancy? He replied that this assumption was baseless. “It is simply the media and some politicians that are misguiding people. The same media and politicians are mute when suicide attacks hit innocent people in our mosques, markets and offices. What about that collateral damage? The media and politicians lack even the courage to name the perpetrators,” my colleague said, adding his belief that the Taliban will continue carrying out attacks against the State and its people with or without drones.

Pick a Number, Any Number

Now about the military’s credibility in its ostensive fight against Taliban in FATA: Around three years ago, with a shy smile, a Peshawar-based colleague from BBC told me how, when Inter-Services Public Relations would issue press releases that such and such number of militants had been killed in a military operation carried out in Kurram Agency (along the border with Afghanistan), he would call them for clarification on the particulars of the operation, at which time the Army public affairs officer would suggest that he lower the number of casualties in his report, “because BBC is considered a credible source of information.”

kahar zalmayIn my country America bashing is both fashionable and part of our national psyche, despite the fact that Pakistan is among the largest recipients of American foreign aid. In support of drone strikes, I submit that the difference between a predator Taliban and a Predator drone is that the latter does not intentionally target innocent people, but terrorists who kidnap children and strap them into suicide vests do purposefully target unarmed civilians.

Kahar Zalmay

Saturday, 8 June 2013


  1. mahfooz jan says

    Drones are considered as a drastic violation of Pakistan’s aerial sovereignty but what about those who violates this sovereignty on the ground.who issued visas to all these chechins,Uzbeks,Tajiks and Arabs terrorists,who grant them permission to come and make a safe heaven for themselves.

  2. Riaz Ahmad says

    The fact is that who created these Taliban and who fueled them? The United states of America created this group and also supported them as this was their need in that time when the cold war was on the. The USA rose the slogans of Jihad and stimulated our people to come and join this artificial jihad. Billions of dollars were spent on the so called Jihad by the Americans and formed training camps in our tribal agencies especially in Waziristan Agency. from all over the world the Muslims were brought to these American made camps to get training and to inject them to Afghanistan. when the cold war was over so the talibans were against the American’s interest in Afghanistan and in the central Asia as a whole so the USA gradually started to blame them for terrorism and they made a plan by destroying world trade center in order to get legal access to Aghanistan and they did as they scheduled this. so finally I’m against this sort of drone attacks because these talibans were produced by USA.

  3. Batoor says

    Drones are the only effective weapons against terrorists and the trust-able defenders of the lives of tribal people against Taleban barbarism.

  4. omarjan says

    Drone attacks are the only source of respite for the people of the tribal areas who have been held hostage by the terrorists sponsored by the Pakistani state. Drone attacks should continue until the last remnants of the terrorists and their safe heavens remain the tribal areas. It is high time the Obama administration grows some balls and calls out the Pakistani state for what it is, a safe haven and a breeding ground for terrorists and the prime source of instability in the region.

  5. Sahoo Barlas says

    I agree with your words “On the one hand, the military refuses to pursue foreign terrorists based in North Waziristan (though now moving to other agencies). On the other hand it propagandizes against drone strikes using government controlled media and right wing political leaders. Thus, the Pakistani military has become a global threat, and it fails to recognize that the war on terrorism will continue to be fought, with or without its cooperation. The sooner it faces this fact, the better for Pakistan and the region”

  6. Sadia Mahsud says

    The hypocrisy of the Pakistani chattering classes has reached an all time low. They are the only supporters of the Taliban in the world and resist every single thing that goes against the Taliban barbarians with greatest possible rudeness. these chattering classes who even do not know where Fata is, which areas are included in FATA, who do not have any connection with the tribal land, who never visited tribal areas in their entire life, and who have only heard about Fata in the pro-taliban pakistani media, are at the forefront of anti-drone propaganda and campaign. Just let us know who these innocent persons are who died in the drone strikes? What are their names? Which tribe, sub-tribe, family and village they belong to? Fata doesn’t have any urban society; here every family is known to others. what kind of a person somebody is, what kind of job that person does, what kind of company and friends that person keeps, each and everything is known about everyone in FATA. the chattering classes only have to name these innocents, and everybody will get to know about their innocence or otherwise. If the victims are innocent, have the chattering classes and the Taliban ever shown their bodies to media? Why after every drone strike the Taliban cordon off the site of the attack and do not allow anybody to see the victims? If the victims are innocent, why should the Taliban shy away from showing them to media? As for the family members of the terrorists who are taken out in the drone attacks, even for that only the Taliban could be held responsible. Taliban pretty well know that they are on target; therefore they can only save their family members by not living in the houses with their family members, or by not giving shelter to their terrorist friends from other countries, or by renouncing terrorism. Drones are after terrorists; therefore they should save their family members by not living with them. innocent people also know that Taliban are terrorists and therefore on target, so they do not keep company with them, and thus never get killed by any drones. chattering classes of pakistan, plz stop supporting the Taliban!!!! plz stop also your chunrh chunrh chunrh chunrh!!

  7. Israr Ahmad Khan says

    In terms of achieving success on terrorists, drone has been more successful than ground operations. many high profile alqaida and taliban were killed in waziristan and other tribal areas only by the help of drones. our friends in pakistan has to accept that terrorists are not their para-military they are terrorists and we as sound human beings have to fight them. keeping in mind that a ground military action would be much consequential and will sure cost a lot of humans and money, on the other hand drones are not that provocative. the ordinary people in waziristan (not terrorists) would not like international troops in their village but a drone flying above their village is not going to be a big deal for them.

  8. yousafzai khan says

    Who came first? Drone or Arabs, Chechens and other terrorists.
    2nd under which law is it justified., when you enter into another country (From Pakistan into Afghanistan) and attack and then issue a video and accept the responsibility.

  9. Atal khan says

    The real source of problem of terror and militancy in the region and Afghanistan in particular is the artificial character of Pakistani state. Pakistan was founded by the colonial British rulers amalgamating parts of India and a vast British occupied territory from Afghanistan. The basic premise was a federal system which Pakistan’s Punjab’s powerful military and civil bureaucracy refused to honor and instead took control of the whole country subjugating other component nations like Bengalis, Sindhis, Baluchis and Pashtuns by seizing their precious natural resources and their historic lands. As a consequence the plurality was transformed into conflict and contradictions between Punjab and other component nations. In 1971 Pakistan got disintegrated by the separation of East Pakistan which is now Bagladesh.

    Pakistan or in other words the ruling Punjab stubbornly instead of recognizing the genuine rights of the component nations tried to conceal internal contradictions and conflicts by externalizing issues. The approach it chose was to create a situation of perpetual war with India. To counter Pashtuns national issues Pakistan (the ruling Punjab) tried to take control of the whole of Afghanistan, the parent land of Pashtuns of Pakistan. Pashtuns in fact were forcibly merged in the British conceived Pakistan.

    Thus the present situation of terrorism and militancy should be looked at and analysed through the above perspective. After the expulsion of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan Pakistan wanted to take full control of Afghanistan. When unsuccessful it resorted to the creation of Taliban ultimately installing a puppet regime there. The present war in Afghanistan, FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is thus the manifestation of Pakistan’s attempt of externalizing internal problems. The so called strategic depth policy, i.e., to counter india’s military supremacy, is in fact a deception, to dupe its own population.

    US’s drone attacks is thus an inevitable war tactic which is the safest way of targeting Pakistani proxies, both Al Qaeda and Taliban. Another way of eliminating terrorism is through dismantling the whole security apparatus (which in reality is an insecurity apparatus) of Pakistan which is the real fountain of terrorism and militancy. It is evident that war brings miseries with it but the outcome of indifference and negligence will be far more horrible.

  10. Atal khan says

    The solution to Drone strike for pakistan is to abandon supporting terror groups ,eliminate from the area in their control ,eliminate these terrorist from our Pashtun land FATA call back its Army which they stationed there to protect their proxies from local Tribes who they fear can resist against their proxies,let the People of FATA to decide their fate.

  11. dusty says

    Dear friend — I am afraid that you believe the lies of the disinformation campaign run by the US intelligence services. There is no such thing as an untargeted drone strike — the people killed including infants, children, women and men are targeted intentionally. We know this because the CIA and others openly say they pick the targets and then launch the missles so what the missles hit are not some random location but a location at which the CIA and/or other agents have chose to kill everyone possible.

    I wonder if you in the same way that you have chosen to support drone strikes you also supported the use of medical personell giving vacinations to look for BL and his family so that they could be executed or imprisoned. Now medical people attempting to carry out vacination programs are being targeted so children are being denied health because of our spy agencies and military. What a victory!

  12. Joseph Maizlish says

    Ah, so drones are better than in-person bombings. Maybe.

    But neither is better than either.

    To the extent that the U.S. reason for droning is to oppose what is selectively called “terrorism,” the job is better done by ending the U.S. interventions and interference with the politics and attempts to control the resources of the Mideast and central Asia. The attackers didn’t choose the U.S. as a target because they threw darts at a world map, or because they didn’t like U.S.-produced movies. The unjust policies of course do not excuse or justify the attackers, but ending the unjust aspects of those policies will deprive the attackers of that part of their motivation, and deprive them of their talking point with other unhappy and violence-ready potential adherents.

  13. Khan says

    All your superficial analysis is based upon statements from 2 persons who happens to be your college friend and colleague. So basically you are not different from all those conspiracy theorists who think that literally every person in the world is a part of grand conspiracy other than himself. The only difference is that you can write an article in English while they are mostly illiterate or Religious personalities who use the platform of Mosque and deliver their theories during Friday sermons. You mean the Pakistan Army, Pakistani Media, Pakistani Politicans and even the Pakistani nation is a part of this conspiracy? while you alone has the courage to speak the truth and see the reality with your own eyes? Seriously? I may agree with the rest of your findings but the part where you oversimplified the loss of innocent lives in these drone attacks is just absurd.

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