DRONES are back in the news, though not the strikes for now but the debate over the ‘ownership’ of the programme. According to a report in this newspaper yesterday, Pakistan and the US have begun exploring various options for shared control of the drone programme after the US refused to end the strikes. Given the opacity of the drone programme and the refusal of both sides to reveal operational details, it is difficult to say whether the negotiations will succeed or what concessions either side is ultimately willing to make. However, this much is clear: establishing some kind of joint control over the strikes is in the interests of both countries. From the US perspective, an effective weapon to fight militancy is constantly mired in controversy because the strikes are presently seen as an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty. By now it seems fairly clear that the regularity of strikes is deeply impacted by the opposition to strikes here. So it stands to reason that minimising the controversy is in the interests of the US.

Of course, states don’t just give away, or even share, complex new technologies because of public perceptions in countries that are troublesome allies at best. Pakistani officialdom has boxed itself in on drone strikes: having whipped up anti-American fervour and publicly denounced the strikes, it has become doubly difficult to now acknowledge the efficacy of the strikes. But poor decisions in the past should not hold decision-making hostage in the present. If Pakistan is to be able to strike a deal with the US on sharing the use of the drone technology inside Pakistani territory, it will have to work hard to reverse the perceptions of the Pakistani public and US policymakers. With the Pakistani public, a dose of truth-telling — not something officials here excel at — will be needed. For one, while drone strikes do cause civilian casualties the alternatives are even more damaging: troops on the ground, artillery or aerial bombardment. For another, it is essential to take out some militants in the tribal areas or else they will likely plan fresh attacks inside and outside Pakistan. These truths must be told loudly and with conviction if public opposition is to be countered.

As for perceptions of US policymakers, the unhappy reality is that after Osama bin Laden was found to be living in this country for many years, Pakistan’s commitment to fighting militancy, even of the kind that threatens global damage, is under severe scrutiny. Joint ownership of the drone programme in Pakistan will only come if Pakistan demonstrates anew that it can and does want to fight militancy.

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Comments (10)

April 22, 2012 6:29 pm
A very nice quote...but it has absolutely nothing to do with this discussion...
April 22, 2012 7:32 pm
Cyrus Howell
April 21, 2012 8:57 am
"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with their own money." -- Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 - 1859)
April 21, 2012 9:22 am
Sovereignty as claiming by Pakistani leaders, comes with responsibility. Given the existence of terrorist safe havens and cross-border terrorism; and, the US right of self-defense enshrined in the UN Charter, leave the US in a stronger legal position to continue to resort to drone strikes, notwithstanding Pakistan's dubious cooperation in the war on terror.
Muhammad Waseem
April 21, 2012 11:02 am
It is the only way Pak-America partnership in the pursuit of getting rid of militancy can go forward.
Fuzail Z. Ahmad
April 21, 2012 12:51 pm
Once again an excellent editorial that puts things in the right perspective. All said, the Govt, of Pakistan has to find a difficult balance between taking the much needed direct and indirect US aid and grappling with anti-US public sentiment. This is a very difficult task and the media gurus are not helping at all. One can only hope that the upcoming general elections are won by whoever but with a resounding majority in the NA so it can take steps that are right for Pakistan. The media is sadly continuing to mix the issues of corruption with foreign policy, making it difficult for at least the present government to deal with the situation.
Agha Ata
April 21, 2012 7:01 pm
The zone, that is attacked by drones, is Pakistan (as we claim). But we deny the fact that attacks on Afghanistan by some people from our zone are attacks from Pakistan. If people living in this zone are fighting for their blood relations in Afghanistan, tell them to forget them. We have the same situation on the Eastern borders. Thousands of Pakistanis have relations in India. If they forgot them you can forget them, too!
April 21, 2012 11:44 pm
joint ownership of drones to fight a war on terrorism is strategically and politically a sane motive.. let's step ahead to make it more doable than before.
andy fr dc
April 22, 2012 12:30 am
Never happen . Pakistan has chosen to be an enemy. Why would the USA give any control of airstrikes to it's enemy ?
April 22, 2012 6:57 am
If only the symptoms are dealt with there would no holistic healing. What Pakistan needs is a gradual but firm disengagement from the radical fundamentalistic ideology the nation seems to be toeing. And the truth telling needs to start from within first, starting from the vision Jinnah had for Pakistan which was somehow hijacked and now has totally vanished..!
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