Drones are one of the most discussed and controversial topics in our national discourse. In the face of incessant drones strikes and the helplessness of our ruling elite, we have accepted drones as a part of our day to day reality, a fact that is not going to change anytime soon.

From the Oval office to the blockade of NATO supply through KPK, our entreaties and outpourings have not succeeded in dissuading US from droning targets in Pakistan. PTI’s campaign against drone strikes has a symbolic value, but agitation alone may not be enough to make US change a policy closely linked to its national security.

One key to influence someone’s behaviour, especially if it’s at odds with our interests, is to find a common denominator - by offering something which is mutually desirable - a win win for everyone involved. Playing our tune on our flute, may sound sweet to our ears, but may not get us very far. To make US change its drone policy, we need to look at the problem from US perspective, and to appraise as to why Obama administration is increasingly relying on drones to target miscreants.

Our narrative regarding drones is simple. Drones are wreaking havoc in tribal area. These instruments of death are violating our state sovereignty, demoralising our people and resulting in civilian casualties. Reports from US institutions such as Stanford’s “living under drones”, highlight the plight of ordinary people of Fata, and how the menace of drones is affecting the social and economic life of the region. This is why PTI and other religious parties have taken to streets to agitate against drones.

However for US, drone is an important pivot in its war on terror. It’s importance lies in its reach, precision and lethality. Through drones, US has succeeded in destroying and disrupting terror networks which are beyond US reach, and where local governments exercised little or no control.

Many areas, in our tribal belt are difficult to access, even for our forces. In such places, targeting terrorists can be a costly affair. As US President Barrack Obama said, “It is not possible for America to simply deploy a team of Special Forces to capture every terrorist. And even when such an approach may be possible, there are places where it would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians.”

Many known terrorists, wanted by US and Pakistani authorities were killed in drone strikes including Al Qaeda’s top leaders , TTP’s formidable commanders like Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud, and many more lower level militants.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, American academic, Daniel Byman described the role of drones in these words, “ The drones have done their job remarkably well: by killing key leaders and denying terrorists sanctuaries in Pakistan... drones have devastated Al-Qaeda and associated anti-American militant groups. And they have done so at little financial cost, at no risk to U.S. forces, and with fewer civilian casualties.”

Our previous leadership denounced drone attacks in public, but in private, accepted their effectiveness. According to US diplomatic cables, exposed in Wiki Leaks, during meetings with US officials, General Kayani asked for a “continuous drone coverage of conflict zone”. Similarly, Maj Gen. Ghayur Mahmoud, overseeing operations in North Waziristan, reported in press on March 2011, “ Myths and rumours about US Predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those killed are hardcore elements, a sizable number of them foreigners.”

Drone strikes are morally and legally reprehensible, infringe our sovereignty and cause civilian casualties. These objections are true, but it is also true that in absence of state action against militants, drones have effectively contained terrorism. Only moral and legal exhortations will not dissuade US from using drones in our tribal area. To stop drones, we have to drive away elements from our tribal belt that are considered a threat by US. It is in our national interest to make it sure that no one uses our soil against any other nation. To accomplish this we have to establish our writ over Fata and integrate it politically, administratively and economically.

For last few years, US have stopped emphasizing on “doing more.” It is because, US has found a better way - in the form of drones - to eliminate and decapitate terror networks on our territory. We need to establish control over tribal area, whether through negotiations with militants or by employing some other counterinsurgency strategy. As long as US perceives tribal area as a threat to its national security, drones will keep flying over Fata.

The writer is a freelance columnist and has worked as a broadcast journalist.

Email:adnanfalak@gmail.com

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