How Drones Changed the Game in Pakistan
How Drones Changed the Game in Pakistan
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How Drones Changed the Game in Pakistan
Hussain Nadim is a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank established by an act of Congress in 1968 to memorialize the twenty-eighth US president
and his goal to build a bridge between the worlds of academia and public policy, and to inform and develop solutions to the nation’s problems and challenges.
Claims that drone strikes actually promote terrorism by creating more terrorists are inaccurate. In truth, people in tribal areas of nations such as Pakistan want to
flush the terrorists out of their communities, and support for drone strikes is widespread in the Pakistani military. Anti-American rallies actually occur in urban
centers that have had little experience with drone strikes. Moreover, the media exaggerate the number of civilians killed, when drone strikes have in fact become quite
precise. Although the United States must find a political way to put an end to militant fundamentalism, drone strikes have caused psychological fear among militants
and restricted their operations, thus tilting the balance of power towards US interests.
Regardless of what the news agencies in Pakistan claim about the negative effects of drone strikes, the weapon is proving to be a game changer for the U.S. war on
terrorism. And surprisingly, the Pakistani Army quietly admits to this fact. Just the way Stinger missiles shifted the balance of power in favor of the United States
in the 1980s, drones are producing the same results.
The critics of unmanned strikes, who claim that drones are contributing to growing radicalization in Pakistan, haven’t looked around enough—or they would realize that
much of the radicalization already was established by the Taliban in the 1990s. The real tragedy is that it is acceptable for the Taliban to radicalize and kill, but
it is considered a breach of sovereignty for the United States, in pursuit of those radicalizing Pakistan’s people, to do the same.
There is so much protest over the drones because the media reports about them are biased. Although people on ground in war zones contend that the drone strikes have
very few civilian casualties and, with time, have become extremely precise, the media presents quite a different story to boost its ratings.
Many in Pakistan, especially in the army, understand the positive impact of this weapon. Drones are coming in handy for two reasons: their precision and psychological
effect. Many analysts of this subject have been concerned only with the military aspect, such as whether or not drones are precise enough and the casualties they
incur. But part of what works in favor of the United States is the psychological impact—the fear that drones have instilled in the militants. The fact that the United
States might strike day or night, inside the militant compound or outside while traveling in the convoys, works to deter militants and restrict their operations. This
tilts the balance of power in favor of the United States.
There isn’t as much anti-Americanism as one would suspect in areas where the United States is conducting drone strikes.
Most of the people in the Pakistani Army whom I interviewed on the subject were positive about the drone strikes and their direct correlation with a decrease in
terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The majority focused on the psychological impact of the drones and how they have put militants on the run, forcing them to sleep under
trees at night, though it must be said that army officials showed some concern about cases in which the same psychological impact is experienced by civilians.
Locals I talked to are frustrated over the fear that they might get hit by a drone if the militants are hiding in their neighborhood. But this frustration may have a
positive impact as it motivates civilians to flush out and close doors to militants who seek refuge in their areas.
Surprisingly, there isn’t as much anti-Americanism as one would suspect in areas where the United States is conducting drone strikes, largely because the locals are
fed up with the influx of militants in their areas and have suffered because of terrorism. However, urban centers, which have suffered the least from terrorism, are
far more radicalized and anti-American. Hence, we see large anti-drone rallies in the cities of Punjab, where people have little first-hand experience with drones. The
anti-American lot in these places will start a rally for any reason at all as long as they get to burn a few American flags.
Pakistan’s army remains worried about the domestic political repercussions of drone strikes. The army has been weakened already by its rift with the civilian
government, and increasing pressure from the United States likely will continue that trend. With a low approval rating, the army is nervous about dealing with the
growing sentiment against drone strikes, no matter how effective they have been recently. The Pakistan People’s Party also is worried, having taken blows from the
judiciary and the opposition. Recent media reports claiming a secret, backdoor deal between the Pakistan People’s Party government and the United States over the drone
strikes have further delegitimized the party.
These concerns about the civilian impact of drones are genuine, and the United States will have to address them. Drone operators must become more precise and accurate
in their targeting and intelligence gathering. This can be done only through unconditional cooperation with Pakistan, which requires being sensitive to that country’s
domestic political conditions.
Pakistan and the United States also need to be careful about drone strikes possibly pushing militants deeper into Pakistani cities. Drones will be useless if security
forces are unable to stop a migration of militants into urban centers. Likewise, the United States will have serious challenges gaining permission for drone strikes
outside tribal areas without improvements in diplomatic relations.
While drones are successful today, the United States must remember that it will be only a matter of time before militants find a way to hide from unmanned attacks. As
such, drone operations ultimately must be accompanied by a political solution. The United States finds itself in a stronger bargaining position due to the use of
drones, and it must make good use of this opportunity.
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How Drones Changed the Game in Pakistan. “How Drones Changed the Game in Pakistan.” The National Interest (3 Aug. 2012). Rpt. in Drones. Ed. Louise Gerdes. Detroit:
Greenhaven Press, 2014. At Issue. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 10 July 2014.
Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ3010888205
Aerial Drones Serve as Weapons of War
Weapons of War, 2012
Dan Murphy is a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor.
Drones are remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles. Some drones are as small as five pounds; others are significantly larger. Small drones can be used for
intelligence gathering, while larger drones can carry lethal missiles. The drones save soldiers’ lives by doing dangerous work. Also, the drones have been highly
successful in targeting and killing al Qaeda leaders. Although they are effective, drones sometimes present strategic problems, as their use can cause a backlash of
civilian anger when civilian deaths result. One fear is that their use in Pakistan may undermine US-Pakistan cooperation in anti-terrorism efforts.
What is a drone?
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are remote-controlled aircraft that usually carry cameras to gather intelligence and sometimes missiles to kill.
They range in size from the five-pound Raven, which is launched by an infantryman the way a child throws a paper airplane and costs $25,000 (though a full “system”
consisting of three of the planes, a ground control station, and imaging equipment goes for $250,000), to the Reaper, which has a wingspan of 66 feet and is equipped
with Hellfire missiles and 500-pound bombs and has a price tag of $17 million.
Though the Navy flew unmanned planes during World War II, the technology didn’t catch on until the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan. Then, the US only had a handful of
them. Today, there are 7,000 of them in the US arsenal.
Drones Save Soldiers
They’re particularly useful in theaters like Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, where rough terrain and hostile locals make on-the-ground intelligence
gathering even tougher than normal. The key to their success is the cameras they carry—and the images they transmit instantly to infantry commanders.
Drones’ great advantage is that they keep pilots and soldiers out of harm’s way.
Most drones spend their days looking for improvised explosive devices along roads, flying over villages that troops may be planning to pass through, or watching houses
thought to be used by militants.
Most famous are the Predators and Reapers—the missile-wielding planes that have been used to attack militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan and whose pilots are often a
world away, on bases in Arizona and Nevada.
Drones’ great advantage is that they keep pilots and soldiers out of harm’s way. They are also much cheaper to fly than conventional planes.
“Unmanned systems are used for jobs that meet one of the three D’s: dull, dirty, or dangerous,” says Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in
Washington [DC] and author of “Wired for War,” which considers the ethical and strategic implications of the burgeoning use of UAVs and other military robots.
“The most important ‘D’ in my mind is ‘dangerous,'” he continues. “As a commander of one of these units told me, he likes them because he doesn’t have to worry about
writing a letter to someone’s mother.”
The drones are credited with killing high-value targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Drones Are Effective
The lethal UAVS work as advertised. “By one count, 11 out of the top 20 [al-Qaeda] leaders we have killed by robotics, not by boots on the ground,” Mr. Singer says.
The drones are credited with killing high-value targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas, an effective no-go area for the US military. In January , for example, a
drone killed Osama al-Kini, thought to be the architect of a 2007 attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed 54 people.
In a sign of growing US support for drones, all branches of the military—as well as the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]—are adopting the technology. The military
spent $880 million buying such planes in 2007 and is now spending $2 billion a year on them.
In a speech at the Air War College in Alabama last month [April 2009], Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there had been a 48 percent increase in UAV patrols in
combat zones in the past year, to 34 a day. Since last August  the US has carried out about 40 unmanned airstrikes in Pakistan.
Drones Create Civilian Backlash
Some analysts worry that, despite the drones’ tactical benefits, their heavy use could damage America’s strategic goals. David Kilcullen, one of the most influential
advisers in US counterinsurgency strategy in the past few years, thinks drone strikes in Pakistan do more harm than good because of the backlash they create,
especially when civilians are killed.
“Unilateral strikes against targets inside Pakistan, whatever other purpose they might serve, have an unarguably and entirely negative effect on Pakistani stability,”
he wrote in the Small Wars Journal earlier this year.
“They increase the number and radicalism of Pakistanis who support extremism, and thus undermine the key strategic program of building a willing and capable partner in
Pakistan,” he continued.
The drone attacks appear to have galvanized the Taliban in Pakistan: In April their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, threatened as many as two terrorist attacks a week as
long as the airstrikes continued.
Singer also points out that, while the US may hope that technological superiority will inspire fear or at least respect from enemies, to many tribal Afghans and
Pakistanis the use of such weapons is seen as dishonorable because the soldiers deploying them aren’t taking any risks themselves.
Drones May Undermine Pakistan’s Government
The drone attacks are a clear source of public anger inside Pakistan. Leaders in Islamabad have repeatedly, even angrily, demanded that the US halt drone attacks in
their country. But US officials privately say they cooperate closely in choosing targets for strikes with the Pakistani military, and that the US has tacit approval
for most of its drone operations inside Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Still, the airstrikes undermine the Pakistani government by setting it against the populace, which largely opposes the attacks on fellow Pakistanis.
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Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2012 Greenhaven Press, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning.
Murphy, Dan. “Aerial Drones Serve as Weapons of War.” Weapons of War. Ed. Diane Andrews Henningfeld. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2012. At Issue. Rpt. from “Briefing:
Aerial Drones as Weapons of War.” Christian Science Monitor (22 May 2009). Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 10 July 2014.
Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ3010778214
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