The International Crisis Group (ICG) on Tuesday published a new report “Drones: Myths And Reality In Pakistan,” examining the ongoing war against militant groups located in Pakistan. The report calls on both the United States and Pakistan to come clean about the ongoing use of drones against suspected terrorists, saying that more than strikes are needed to end Pakistan’s ongoing problem with militants.
Since 2004, according to the ICG, at least 350 U.S. drone strikes have taken place on Pakistani soil, within the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). Complicating operations against militant groups based in the area, the vast majority of Pakistan’s laws simply do not apply to the FATA, with the region instead following its own set of tribal laws and codes. Given the lack of control Islamabad exerts, the FATA has long been a haven for armed groups, including those who strike across the border in Afghanistan, including Mullah Omar’s Taliban and the Haqqani Network, as well as the Pakistani Taliban, which strikes against Pakistan itself.
One of the major issues ICG raises regarding drone strikes in the area is the lack of firm intelligence about precisely who is being targeted. In place of firm data, the U.S. often utilizes what are known as “signature strikes” or “personality strikes.” Groups of men between 16-55 who meet a certain profile are often considered legitimate targets, based on “pattern of life” data including where they’ve traveled while under surveillance and whether or not they were in the vicinity of known targets when the strike occurred.
As the report details, Pakistan and U.S. are locked in delicate dance over the actual use of drones within Pakistan, each concealing the full truth from the public. The U.S. still won’t officially confirm that the CIA-run targeted killing program within Pakistan even exists. The IGC says Pakistan often displays behavior that “borders on the schizophrenic” when it comes to the drone program. The Pakistani government often claims to have no forewarning about the use of drones and publicly denounces many of the strikes, even with ample evidence that they provide permission for the operations to occur, especially when carried out against its enemies.
ICG suggests both Washington and Islamabad become more transparent about the relationship the two have on drone strikes, while shifting their policies away from relying solely on military options, and instead taking a more comprehensive approach to combating militancy:
The U.S. policy should be two-fold: pressuring the Pakistan military to abandon any logistical or other support to violent extremists, including by more rigorously applying existing conditions on security assistance; and encouraging and supporting efforts by the elected leadership in Islamabad to extend the state’s writ to FATA.
Similarly, if Pakistan is genuinely committed to ending strikes on its territory, it should realise that its strongest case against the U.S. drone program lies in overhauling an anachronistic governance system so as to establish fundamental constitutional rights and genuine political enfranchisement in FATA, along with a state apparatus capable of upholding the rule of law and bringing violent extremists to justice.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister-elect Nawiz Sharif seems keen on holding talks with the Pakistani Taliban. “All options should be tried, and guns are not a solution to all problems,” Sharif said in a speech to newly elected members of his party on Monday. “Why shouldn’t we sit and talk, engage in dialogue?” While Pakistan did last year name militants an even greater threat to the country than arch-rival India, it’s less certain how the Pakistani Army, often considered the true seat of power in the country, will act in response to Sharif’s call for talks. “We sincerely desire that all those who have strayed and have picked up arms against the nation return to the national fold,” Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said on Saturday. “However, this is only possible once they unconditionally submit to the state, its constitution and the rule of law.”
For the United States’ part, it appears the CIA’s drone program will continue flying in Pakistan, according to a report from Reuters, even as other segments of the targeted killing program move more firmly into the Pentagon’s control. More broadly, President Obama is set to give a speech on Thursday laying out his counterterrorism strategy moving forward, including presumably how and when drones are used.