January 24, 2010aircraftcounter-insurgencyForeign AffairsmilitaryPakistanSecurityTalibanUAVsUnited States

The politics of drones

A political weapon sought and granted

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

A brief word on the the drones that Robert Gates offered Pakistan during his recent—perhaps worst—trip to Islamabad. The offer was more political theatre than it was of military significance.

Why? Because—as this old post argues—Pakistan does not need armed drones to conduct counter-insurgency operations within its own territory. It has enough numbers of competent ground forces, if not teams of special forces, to conduct the kind of decapitation strikes against top jihadi leaders, if its military establishment wants to. And if they do want drones, Pakistan has some reasonably good home-made ones. China’s hand, in any case, will continue to be of the helping kind.

The whole demand for drones—volubly made by the Zardari-Gilani government—is political. It allows Messrs Zardari & Gilani to be seen, by the Pakistani people, as demanding something from the United States. It also allows them to be seen, by the American people, as demanding the kind of things they need to fight the jihadis and the Taliban. It works even if, and especially if, the demand were not granted.

If the Pakistanis are a sharp bunch, so is Mr Gates. You want drones? Here, take these drones.” Few people in Pakistan or the United States are likely to read beyond the headline, and realise that the drones he offered are not quite the drones knocking out the taliban-types in Waziristan. Surely, didn’t the United States give the Pakistanis the tools they need to fight those violent extremists (as they are now called)?

Mr Zardari might have even declared victory. Unfortunately for him, the military establishment is not likely to allow that.



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