Pakistan: in defence of drones

January 9, 2010

tribesmenDawn columnist Irfan Husain has drawn attention to a fairly revolutionary article by Pakistani academic Farhat Taj in defence of drone attacks in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

By way of introduction, start with what Husain writes in his column:

“Many of us in the punditry profession are guilty of making generalisations about what is happening in the tribal areas without having visited them in recent times. Thus, when we hear about the anger and outrage supposedly sweeping though the people of Fata over the frequent drone attacks, we tend to accept this as the gospel truth,” he writes.

“This myth was recently exploded by Farhat Taj in her article ‘Drone attacks: challenging some fabrications’, published recently in a national daily. Dr Taj is an academic at the University of Oslo, but more importantly, she comes from the region and has a degree of access to tribal Pakhtuns that is rare.”

Here is what Taj had to say in an article in the Daily Times:

“The people of Waziristan are suffering a brutal kind of occupation under the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is in this context that they would welcome anyone, Americans, Israelis, Indians or even the devil, to rid them of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Therefore, they welcome the drone attacks,” she writes.

“Secondly, the people feel comfortable with the drones because of their precision and targeted strikes. People usually appreciate drone attacks when they compare it with the Pakistan Army’s attacks, which always result in collateral damage. Especially the people of Waziristan have been terrified by the use of long-range artillery and air strikes of the Pakistan Army and Air Force.”

The conventional view is that attacks by drones, widely assumed to be run by the CIA but never publicly acknowledged by the United States, are deeply unpopular in Pakistan because they cause civilian casualties and are seen as an invasion of sovereignty.

But Taj writes that no one is in a position to find out about civilian casualties from drone attacks in places like South Waziristan – the area is off-limits for journalists – and nor are they seen by the people there as an invasion of sovereignty.

“What we read and hear in the print and electronic media of Pakistan about drone attacks as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty or resulting in killing innocent civilians is not true so far as the people of Waziristan are concerned. According to them, al Qaeda and the TTP (the Pakistani Taliban) are dead scared of drone attacks and their leadership spends sleepless nights. This is a cause of pleasure for the tormented people of Waziristan.”

There are other criticisms of drone attacks — that they fuel anti-Americanism in a way which can be counter-productive by undermining U.S. efforts to convince Pakistan and its people to turn against all Islamist militants operating from its territory.

They remain firmly under U.S. control, raising fears in Pakistan of an escalation that could be damaging to Pakistani interests – for example through an escalation of drone attacks in the tribal areas in revenge for the suicide bomb attack on CIA agents in Afghanistan, or worse an expansion into its restive Baluchistan province,  where Washington says the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar are based.

The secrecy surrounding the drone operations does not help in a country which is already rich in conspiracy theories and where many still prefer to blame the United States/India/Israel for a spate of gun and bomb attacks rather than Islamist militants.

And there are those who argue that the widespread introduction of any new weapon – as is the case with remote-controlled aircraft armed with powerful missiles – is inherently dangerous in the long-term.

So the debate about drones is likely to run and run. (Andrew Exum has just put up a post on the subject).

Taj’s piece, however, whether you agree with her or not, is at least a reminder of how little we know, and understand, about the drone war.


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There is one question which is really intriguing me. Is it really possible for the US to carry on using drones in Pakistan, over such a prolonged period, without some sort of agreement with the Pakistani establishment?

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Excellent piece! I believe the US should use the drones and go after these lunatic Pashtuns, who have nothing better to do than kill people.
Besides, it should never be given to the Pak Army who will always compromise the intelligence on who is next in return for a few thousand dollars!
CIA is doing a wonderful job. It should complete the mission and now with even more zest after what happend in Khost.

Posted by verboseguy | Report as abusive

We are living in strange time, the world war 2 has ended so has the cold war! now the lunitics have taken over, the americans are sendind drones and killing innocents and the lunitics from the third world are carrying bombs in the underwear for delivery in the US. We the little passive peaceful citizens of the world are watching day out and day in, the military elites in their uniforms full of medals and the so called radicals, insurgents, talabans, terrorists etc. displaying their kk’s swearing vengence for their deads. I wonder who is going to win this conflict, one thing is sure we the little innocent and peaceful people would be the loosers. Let us pray for the sanity.

Posted by rexminor | Report as abusive


Good article.
So drones are not killing civilians as some tend to believe.

Farhat Taj did good work in knowing the facts and breaks the myth of “civilian casualties”. It is fair that we believe Farhat Taj until someone got the guts to enter the area and report the contrary.

That brings into question the loss of Pak’s “sovereignty” by these drones. It is no secret that Pakistan Army has allowed to fire the drones by US. sp?id=163174 tor-reveals-us-drones-launch-inside-paki stan-

Gullible Pakistanis think that PA is against the drones based upon what PA says in news—keep uncle Sam happy and Pakistanis public in control.

My friend Umair, who recently showed his happiness about drones and the capacity of PA to shoot down drones, can tell us more on this.

Myra: How is the information for firing the drones gathered and what is Pakistan’s role in it?

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive


“My friend Umair, who recently showed his UNHAPPINESS about drones and the capacity of PA to shoot down drones, can tell us more on this”

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive


Please allow posting through, here is some information for our Pakistani bloggers: d/poll-afghans-overwhelmingly-prefer-kar zai-to-taliban/article1427895/

It seems that the Taliban defeat is plausible after all, it is the will of the people of Afghanistan, as they prefer Karzai to Taliban rule.

Enjoy the light reading.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

Some folks may feel comfort in being reminded how little they know, and understand, about the drone war. I don’t. Some folks may feel inclined to gloss over the issue of who created and subsidized the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the first place, profiting from it to this day. I’d be disinclined to.

Some folks are too confused to wonder why, when these same people are running covert drone operations against the enemy they spawned to being with, in flagrant incursion on other nations’ sovereignty, it’s allegedly no big deal to the potential civilian victims on the ground – or so, according to sources who also draw their paychecks from the same people that… etc.

You shouldn’t be.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

We should not forget the Greek who said, war is bad in that it begets more evil than it kills.”Immanuel Kant(1724-1804)”

Posted by rexminor | Report as abusive

The U.S. and NATO should adopt Drones, develop hypersonic drones and bomber drones of every type to take the fight to militants and enemies of civility, right to their doorstep, while minimizing loss of life on both sides by avoiding ground invasions.

It won’t be long before the U.S. develops intelligent humanoid android drones,which will act like infiltration units and be able to blend, perhaps even “learn”. That day will be the end of Radical Islamists, wherever they are and perfect the art of apprehending the bad guys. One will not require the level of intelligence resources to do the same level of work and achieve the same objective.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

[…] […]

Posted by Howling at the moon | Report as abusive

See item on ACLU seeking more transparency on drone strikes: clu-wants-to-know-the-legal-basis-for-ci a-drone-strikes

Posted by Myra.MacDonald | Report as abusive

@See item on ACLU seeking more transparency on drone strikes: clu-wants-to-know-the-legal-basis-for-ci a-drone-strikes
Posted by Myra.MacDonald

—So ACLU Wants to Know the Legal Basis for CIA Drone Strikes. They can check that with PA/ISI who will know that very well and perhaps ACLU should file a similar request to Taliban, A-Q and other similar philanthropist organizations which the CIA is targeting.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

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[…] terrorist elements”. Writer and academic Farhat Taj has taken this argument further by saying that people actually prefer drone strikes to living in fear of the Taliban and their foreign […]

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What policies and/or actions have Pakistanis, who are opposed to drone strikes, taken in Pakistan?…

In an effort to build up more information about what the Pakistanis actually think of drone strikes I’ll just add some relevant infomation about Pakistani opinion and actions regarding drone strikes as I find it. Recent action by Pakistan’s parliamen…

Posted by Quora | Report as abusive