Predator Drones Are a Necessary Evil In Pakistan

The Pakistani government’s restatement of its national sovereignty, in lieu of this week’s drone attacks, is defensible through the bounds of international law

Attacks are taking place on its territory by the United States, a foreign entity, which violates the concept of territorial integrity states are granted in relation to each other. Although these concepts are intentionally vague in international jurisprudence, the idea of “national sovereignty” is a simple rhetorical point reiterated by the Pakistani government to reassert its standing to its people and the international community by showing that it is defiant to US imposition of force in south Asia. 

Now that the rhetorical political concept is clarified, it is important to understand the facts. The Pakistani government is tacitly sharing intelligence with the CIA regarding the drone strikes, however it publicly condemns them each time. Since the beginning of his administration, Pakistani President Zardari has quietly enabled more drone strikes to occur within his state’s borders. With the exception stoppage of strikes from November 2011 to January 2012 as a result of a friendly-fire incident killing 24 Pakistani soldiers, the number of drone strikes has substantially increased during the Obama administration and justifiably so. 

The aid relationship between the United States and Pakistan dates back to 1954 and has had a series of rough patches. Likewise, the U.S. is dutifully suspect of the efforts of the Pakistani government and its intelligence wing ISI in combating terrorism. 

During the Musharraf Administration, the Pakistani president openly admitted to using U.S. aid to arm Pakistan against India. Furthermore, considering the ISI supported the Taliban until the September 11 attacks and that Osama Bin Laden was found comfortably inhabiting a compound that is a short distance from a Pakistani military academy, the proliferation of Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Haqqani network militants within Pakistani borders, is a given. 

The U.S. government has also accused Pakistan of supporting the Haqqani network because it refuses to pursue them within its own borders. Similarly, with insubstantial coverage of the mountainous borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly North Waziristan, and the ability of individuals to go between the two states with relative ease, the U.S. “War in Afghanistan” cannot simply be confined to the borders of one state.

There is no doubting that the drone campaign is successful in targeting and eliminating leadership (a senior Taliban commander as a result of this week’s attacks). It has its flaws, as there are many conflicting reports over the number of Pakistani civilian casualties. The program, however, is a necessity from a practical standpoint. Rather than overextending the U.S. military through the use of expensive fighter jets, having drones provides the U.S. with an extreme tactical advantage by maximizing effectiveness and minimizing military casualties. It is a threat that cannot be combated militarily by our adversaries. 

Critics point to the effect of the drone strikes on Pakistani public opinion. If there is one thing that has held firm throughout Pakistan’s existence, the power does not lie with the public but with the military, as evidenced by Musharraf’s 17-hour coup d’état in 1999. Even the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States stated that Pakistan’s national interests are defined by “by generals, not by civilian leaders.” The Pakistani military has stood in the way of the War on Terror at times, and the jihadi groups it has supported for the last two decades for use against India, such as Lakshar-e-Taiba, are now aiming at American and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Once again, the threat is not concentrated in Pakistan and requires the U.S. to cross state lines in pursuit of terrorists.   

The drone strikes have absolutely put a strain on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The jailing of the doctor who aided the CIA in finding Bin Laden causes skepticism about the nature of information sharing by a supposed ally in the war on terror. Advocates for the severance of the relationship between the two states support a very unlikely scenario, as the two states are dependent on each other. U.S. aid to Pakistan has helped keep an economy dominated by the military, as alleged by Ayeesha Siddiqa in Military Inc., afloat. Some even go as far to say that the Pakistani economy is dependent entirely on U.S. tax dollars as only 2 million of the 80 million Pakistanis pay taxes. Conversely, the United States flies through Pakistani air space in pursuit of militants and NATO relies on Pakistan to keep supply routes to Afghanistan open.

The Pakistani government may constantly reassert its sovereignty rhetorically, but in reality its dependency on the U.S. leads to a tacit understanding and compliance with U.S. drone strikes within its territory. With the Pakistani military standing idle to insurgents coming across its border from Afghanistan, drone strikes by the U.S. are necessary and justified as Pakistani national sovereignty is failing to eliminate this threat to all three states.