When Pakistan’s battle with militancy is concerned, the United States have very few options. Introducing American troops into North Waziristan to flush out the militants would be an extremely difficult mission, and it would no doubt further expand a war in Afghanistan that people are already growing tired off. Poking and prodding the Pakistani armed forces to launch another offensive has been rebuffed time and time again. The Pakistanis argue that they must first consolidate military gains in South Waziristan and Swat before another front is opened. Ordering US Special Forces into the area is risky, since disclosure would provoke a harsh Pakistani response.
With all of these limitations, the use of drones has become the default alternative for Washington. It is not as if drone strikes have been a terrible policy. Top Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders have been killed as a result of the CIA program. Militants from the Haqqani network are constantly on the run, diverting time that could be used for planning attacks toward ensuring their own personal safety. The Pakistani government is even complicit in the attacks since much of the intelligence that makes drone strikes so successful is disseminated from Inter-Services Intelligence.
Obviously, there are problems. The United Nations Human Rights Council submitted a report earlier in the year exposing the program’s unethical nature. Philip Alston, the man in charge of the council, claims that the attacks may even be illegal under international law.
Pakistanis residing in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, North Waziristan in particular, are often killed when the missiles are targeting militants. There have been a number of cases where mothers and children were among the casualties due to their personal relationships with Al Qaeda, Haqqani, or Pakistani Taliban insurgents.
Despite the criticism, there really isn’t another options for keeping militants on their toes.
The tribal regions are nearly impossible to navigate by foot, rendering any ground operation lengthy and perhaps downright impossible. Therefore, it’s no wonder that Washington is trying to increase the range in which drones are permitted. American and NATO intelligence have already requested that American drones be allowed to scan targets in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is believed to be based. The request has been denied by Pakistan, but the fact that the CIA submitted it expresses how valuable the unmanned vehicles have been in the fight against international terrorism.
Civil and human rights activists and organizations will be disappointed by the request. But surely a missile targeting a single house, acting on accurate information, is better than the alternative: a full-scale ground invasion? The former kills the intended target with limited civilian casualties. The latter option would no doubt leave many more people dead or wounded, in addition to destroying a tribal infrastructure system that is already weak at the margins.
The United States recognized this discrepancy long ago. It may be time for others in the international community, including the United Nations, to recognize it as well.