Drone strikes: cause or effect

AT THE beginning of the month, on September 6th, Pakistan’s military executed its first ever drone strike, firing on a ‘terrorist compound’ on domestic soil. Army officials announced that the attack in North Waziristan—located in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), a region synonymous with terrorist strongholds—killed three suspected “high-profile” militants. The strike was launched using Pakistan’s first home-made drone, a result of America’s refusal to share its drone technology with Pakistan. The ‘Burraq’ drone—named after a heavenly creature that transported the Prophet Muhammad—was first tested in March this year and shares striking similarities with its ally China’s CH-3 drone.

The attack may mark a notable turn of events in the region: while Pakistan’s complicity in the American covert strikes is no secret, this incident could indicate the start of a more active part in Pakistan’s battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But whether indigenous drones will boost the country’s counter-terrorism capabilities remains to be seen.

One reason why it so difficult to judge the drones’ success is a lack of data. Since all but one of the strikes in Pakistan were executed under the aegis of the CIA, information is classified. The US government does not publish data on drone sorties, strikes and casualties caused. However, various organisations, such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Long War Journal and the New America Foundation, have taken to tracking the strikes themselves by analysing media reports—with varying results. It is a tall order: definitions are shaky (what, for example, makes a militant?), and sources may be biased. The remoteness of the tribal areas does not make for easy counting either, with reports of strikes often incomplete or contradictory.

Without comprehensive data to draw on, some experts speculate that the heavy bombardment of North Waziristan has merely caused terrorists to relocate. Others—most notably former US President Jimmy Carter—have said that drone attacks, in fact, only create more terrorists.

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