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The drone debate

October 12, 2012


On the eve of December 27th 2007; I was slaving away in my office in Leeds when I got a call that left me shocked, what I felt afterwards included amongst other things embarrassment on being a Pakistani. A similar shrill went down my spine when I watched the news to find that there had been a cowardly assassination attempt on the shining star from Swat; our very own Malala Yousafzai.

Perhaps the hate and anger for those who did this was further heightened because my own mother is a Yousafzai and also because I hate what the Radio-vangelist Fazallullah had done to my favourite Holiday destination. While hate and anger is fine and justified, reacting without thought and analysis is not. It has been over 11 years since we became the ally on this war against terror and over eight years since we became a proxy.

Perceptions are often far more important than realities; as they say in Urdu ‘bad say badnaam bura’. And as any decent doctor will tell you treating symptoms and not the causes will get you nowhere.  Hence, diagnosis is key. This is our war there is no mistake about it; with barbarians running wild in state territory killing, abducting and blowing up at will, we would be fools to think otherwise. But unless one of the ‘lets drone them’ advocates have a special tool that can scan and differentiate between a normal Pushtun and a Taliban, we are banking on a very ‘hit and hope’ strategy.

In the words of Thoreau ‘For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root’. Militancy and ideological extremism is a problem, but the use of the military is not a solution. Yes, I hear the Anglophile calling me a talib-sympathiser but lets all remember these cowards won’t assemble on a plane like samurai warriors and fight till their last breath. All they have to lose is to not win; you can win battles against them but not the war. They will just disperse and then hit back once things seem to have calmed down; the Malala incident testifies that.

A war of hearts and minds cannot be won without engaging in dialogue. Who with, you ask? Well every one, every one who holds any position of authority in the 30+ TTP groups and its splinters, even tribal chiefs and elders’. Because only by engaging them can we ascertain the ideological element from the criminals who have joined them for their own agenda, and most importantly the reactionary element. Yes, I can hear the Brown Sahibs again. Even Google will tell you that Clause 3 of the ‘Pushtunwali’ (the Pushtun honor code) is called Badal (revenge/to seek their version of justice). And in case you missed the little media attention given to the IDP’s of Waziristan, the message was loud and clear: ‘we will seek revenge from America, even if it’s after a thousand years’ (one said).

Madness is repeating the same method and expecting different results, our strategy is flawed. The Taliban won’t win but they certainly won’t lose, and until we can annihilate the ideological element be it even militarily, we first need to ascertain them from those fighting for other reasons.

Impressionable minds are easy to recruit; even Husain Haqqani was a Jamiat President in his early days, how easy would it be to recruit an illiterate youth who has just lost innocent, loved ones in a predator drone bombing?

While our hearts go out to Malala and we all unite in praying for her speedy recovery, let’s not forget the toddlers bombed to shreds by drone attacks. After all they were human souls too not plastic toys.

To the lay person who doesn’t want to understand the legal arguments, the case against drones is simple and two-pronged; firstly justice requires that no man should be condemned unheard, even Nazi’s received trials and so did Saddam. People should be charged and proven guilty before being sent to the guillotine.

The second is the International law argument, a violation of sovereignty is similar to the following example; if you’ve been a naughty child your parents can discipline you, even slap you. On the other hand, if someone in a different country ‘thinks’ you’ve been a naughty child and slaps you, it’s an entirely different ball game. Capital punishment by elders is wrong but it’s a greater wrong if the person disciplining you has no express or implied authority.

Hence, my understanding of the winning strategy to be is: ‘Engage, identify, ascertain, convince and exterminate’. Only this way can we truly make this our war … and then, win it.


The author is an aspiring lawyer and a socio-political activist.



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.