Drone Attacks in Pakistan: Truth and Consequences

Activists of the Pakistani fundamentalist Islamic party Jamaat-i-Islami shout slogans calling for an en end to American drone attacks in tribal areas on January 23, 2011 during an anti-US protest rally in Peshawar. (A Majeed /AFP/Getty Images)

In an unprecedented move, a Pakistani general has proclaimed that most of the targets of US drone attacks in Pakistan’s Pushtun tribal belt are "hardcore militants" and the number of "innocent people being killed is relatively low."

This must be music to the ears of CIA officials who run this program. However, everyone else is surprised because this statement has come at a time when the Raymond Davis controversy has sullied the bilateral relationship.

It was a known fact, especially after the WikiLeaks disclosures, that Pakistan's political as well as military leaders were generally supportive of this mode of counterterror operation—even if they were publicly critical of it in view of strong public opposition.

In this context, it appears that after a meeting of senior military officials from both sides, some adjustments have been agreed upon—Pakistan's army will acknowledge the effectiveness of drone attacks and the US will be more transparent about the activities of its officials in Pakistan.

If this is indeed so, then it can be deemed as a good damage-control step. However, for ordinary Pakistanis, drone attacks will not become acceptable overnight. Even if an increasing number of terrorists are being eliminated and collateral damage is low, popular perception about the issue can still have lethal consequences.

Hassan Abbas is Quaid-i-Azam Chair Professor at Columbia University and an Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow.

Related links:
Hassan Abbas on AsiaSociety.org

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Hassan Abbas, an Asia Society Senior Advisor, is a Professor at CISA, National Defense University. All views are personal.