Attacks by US drones have often been presented as forensic, however, only one in 25 victims in Pakistan have been identifiably associated with al-Qaeda. There have been about 400 US drone attacks in Pakistan. Secret CIA documents recording the identity, rank and affiliation of people targeted and killed in strikes in 2006-08 and 2010-11 were leaked to the McClatchy news agency in April last year. Hundreds of those killed were identified simply as Afghan or Pakistani fighters, or as “unknown”. Of these killed, only 2% might be top commanders. Its not like the Pakistani government is oblivious to these attacks. In the past the US has used its drones to kill militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas in exchange for Pakistani help in targeting al-Qaeda members. In 2013 the New York Times reported that the first known US drone strike in Pakistan, on 17 June 2004, had been part of a secret deal to gain access to Pakistani airspace. The CIA agreed to kill the target, Nek Mohammed, in exchange for permission for its drones to go after US enemies.

There is the counter argument, that those who die at the location are giving aid and shelter, at least, to combatants and are therefore legitimate targets. That this is a war situation, and not civil policing action. But maybe it should be. We have had a decade long drone war, without any verifiable knowledge of the deaths being legal, of the action being legal, and of the operations even being of any use in curbing terrorism. This fuzziness has continued into Zarb-e-Azb, where every life lost is that of a militant and there is no transparency or verifiability of actions. These actions are short-term fixes, and have lead to the displacement of terrorism, and there is data to support this. There has been an escalation in violence since 2007. There have been an estimated 50,000 deaths due to suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and gun attacks, the incidence of paramilitary activity is astounding in Pakistan. Research shows that there is a correlation between incidence of drone strikes in FATA and violence in Karachi and Punjab.

Our counter-terrorism policy needs some changes. We now have our own boots on the ground risking their own lives as well. We must be sure that our intelligence is on point. This war is not ending anytime soon. Every counter attack creates new narratives of hatred and potential for militant terror. Our military and government have to look to education, welfare, law and law enforcement and start right now on a long-term disarmament and rehabilitation policy to go hand in hand with any military operation.