The latest drone attack grabbed the prized scalp of Waliur Rehman, the second most important commander of the dreaded Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Despite this success the US drone campaign remains extremely unpopular in the public as ever and has become more of a political issue which is insensitively exploited by the opposition in Pakistan. In 2008 elections, the drone attack on Damadola in 2006, in which quite a number of casualties took place, figured prominently as a main issue that the then government had to face. Even in posh areas voters used to question the PML-Q candidates about this brutality which had been unleashed by the US with the connivance of General (R) Pervez Musharraf.During the 2013 elections campaign, drones issue once again figured prominently as leaders made passionate claims to tackle drones in their own manner if they were voted into power. Temperamental Imran Khan claimed to strike down the drone but seasoned Nawaz Sharif assured to resolve the matter amicably. The US, pretending to be oblivious of these reactions at home, has fuelled the fire by inconsiderately carrying out the drone attack when the new government is on verge of starting its new innings. As expected there was uproar against it by the media and politicians. Ironically, there was not a whisper to appreciate the successful accomplishment of the mission. People are utterly disappointed over the continuation of the drone campaign and the opposition is gloating to see the newly-elected government getting embroiled in a complicated situation right at its inception. There is a murky confusion about the nature and scope of US drone campaign in Pakistan. Just to clarify it briefly the US began this drone campaign basically to destroy Al-Qaeda elements based in Waziristan ever since 2002. It is on record that from 2006 till 2007 all US high-ups, from the US President to Director CIA, persistently asked Pakistan to remove the Al-Qaeda elements who were, according to their information, planning to carry out attacks on the US interests around the world. Pakistan could not or did not do this job properly and diligently. The frustrated US took the control of doing this task in its own hands and started catapulting missiles from drones on their targets.The people of Pakistan are extremely upset about the drone attacks for two reasons; One, the public thinks that US drone attacks are being carried out without our permission; therefore, they consider it an attack on Pakistan.  The fact is that it is not exactly an attack on Pakistan because only terrorists i.e. Al-Qaeda and TTP militants, are being targeted. Secondly this campaign is not being pursued entirely without the consent of the government. Recently, Pervez Musharraf has admitted to have given permission to the US for its drone campaign, though for limited period. Earlier, Bob Woodward wrote in his book ‘Obama’s Wars–The Inside Story’, that ex-CIA Director Mike Hayden visited President Zardari in Inter-Continental Barclay Hotel in New York where President Zardari and Ambassador Husain Haqqani waited for him. “Kill the seniors,” Zardari said. “Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.” Reporting this startling statement, Woodward said: “Zardari had just given the CIA an important green light.”Secondly, the people feel deep sympathy for the innocent lives that perish with the target as collateral damage. The figures show that collateral damage is not as high as people think. Mostly people around hardened militants are their accomplices who get killed along with the target. Al-Qaeda members are in the habit of moving with their families; therefore, at times they become target. The collateral damage caused by the use of artillery and air force can be much higher than the drone attacks. Drones fire missiles with utmost precision.It is an undeniable fact that perceptions are stronger than realities. It would not be advisable for the government to convince the people of Pakistan of the utility of drone attacks that are killing terrorists/militants. On the other hand the sole superpower is bent upon annihilating Al-Qaeda and its affiliates like TTP. It will be difficult to convince them to stop this drone campaign unless we promise to take effective action against Al-Qaeda and TTP ourselves.It is not a rosy situation for the new government. It needs to find the solution at the earliest. The government should assure the US that we will not let anybody use our soil to hatch conspiracies against other countries. Al-Qaeda and the TTP are our enemies. Therefore, we will tackle them. The US should stop drones and let us handle the situation. We can buy one year to prove the seriousness of our promise.The other solution is to get control of drone attacks from the US. If this arrangement is agreed, the workable solution is to form a committee comprising representatives of ISI, IB, CIA and High Court which would identify the targets and decide to launch the drone attack. Every strike should be well-considered. After successful attack the death of actual target should be declared officially with the list of his crimes or accusations. In case of collateral damage, all bodies should be identified and handed over to their relatives for proper burial. The relatives of innocent victims should be compensated similarly as the victims of terrorist attacks are compensated in Pakistan.The sensible advice to the government is to try to get out of this perplexing situation as soon as possible. Dilly-dallying can be dangerous. But it should be done with lot of patience, wisdom and courage so that any unintentional wayward step might not land over a mine that could explode into an unmanageable internal or external conflict.

The writer holds Master’s degree in Intelligence and International Security from War Studies Department, King’s College London.