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Terrorism

Pakistani experts say US drone strikes are controversial but effective

At least fifteen people have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan's restive North Waziristan region. Pakistani experts say drone strikes are controversial but an effective way to eliminate terrorists.

Pakistani security officials said on Monday that an unmanned US aircraft had targeted a militants' compound and a vehicle in the troubled north-western tribal area of North Waziristan, killing at least 15 people.

It was the third US drone strike in three days. On Sunday, eight people were killed in a similar attack in South Waziristan. Security experts believe the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda militants are active in both North and South Waziristan.

In March, a Pakistani parliamentary commission called for an end to US drone strikes, calling them a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Washington has long pressed Islamabad to launch a renewed military offensive in North Waziristan, but to no avail.

Taliban militants take part in a training session in South Waziristan

Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are active in Pakistan's north-western areas

According to a tally by the news agency AFP, Washington launched 45 missile strikes in Pakistan in 2009, the year US President Barack Obama took office. The number of strikes climbed to 101 in 2010 and then decreased to 64 in 2011.

The New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, reports that US drone strikes have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in Pakistan over the past eight years.

“Successful strikes”

A number of Pakistani experts are of the opinion that drones have been quite successful in destroying militants' hideouts in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas.

Ali K. Chishti, a Karachi-based security and political analyst, told DW that the "drone strategy has worked out well for everyone except al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan." He said the drone strikes had forced militants to restrict their movements.

"Drone strikes are a huge political issue in Pakistan. However, both the military and political leadership privately accept that they have been very effective. We must not forget that it was a drone attack that killed Baitullah Mehsud, the man responsible for the assassination of Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto," said Chishti.

For his part, journalist Asha'ar Rehman believes the very fact that Washington continues to use drones to attack militants in Pakistan is proof that it does not trust Pakistan.

"Many people in Pakistan are of the view that drones have been able to contain militants," said Rehman, adding that the collateral damage was the only point that was causing concern.

Trust deficit

A US drone

US drone strikes increased after President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

US-Pakistani ties have been at their lowest level since the killing of al Qaeda's former chief Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad in May last year. They worsened further when a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border in November. In retaliation, Islamabad blocked a key NATO supply route to Afghanistan, which, to date, has not been opened.

"Technically, it (drone strike) is a violation of sovereignty, and I think if there is any agreement between Washington and Islamabad on this, it is too loose," said Rehman.

Chishti said he had interviewed various CIA and ISI officials who told him that until 2009 ISI and the CIA jointly operated a 'drone center' in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

Chishti is of the view that despite Islamabad's requests, the US will not give drone technology to Pakistan because it fears it may transfer the technology to China. Pakistani experts say any such transfer of drone technology to Pakistan would mean that the US would have to rely on Islamabad to kill al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents, who Washington believes, are backed by the Pakistani military and its spy agencies. They also say that Islamabad may possibly use these drones against its arch-rival India. Clearly for Washington the risk associated with transferring this technology to Islamabad are simply too great.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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