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To Dread or Adore Drones?

by Newsweek Pakistan

James Lee Harper Jr.-USAF—AFP

There is no denying the effectiveness of the controversial U.S. strikes

American drone attacks along the Pak-Afghan border are on the rise again. Thus far this month, counted together with ground attacks, 70 strikes were reported inside Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. In the last week alone 30 people were killed in drone strikes. Pakistan doesn’t like these attacks when they occur on its territory because they cause a lot of collateral damage among innocents. Despite that, it is difficult to ignore that they have helped rid Pakistan of some of its most dreaded killers. At times, people are compelled to conjecture that Pakistan actually “requests” the strikes.

In July this year, a drone killed Umar Khalid Khorasani, the mastermind of the militant attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School that left 144 people, mostly students, dead. The strike, which also claimed Qari Saifullah Akhtar, occurred in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. The savagery of the Peshawar attack had sent Pakistan into collective trauma, which was hardly assuaged by the hanging of the men who had facilitated it. But once in Afghanistan, Khorasani was out of Pakistan’s reach.

Akhtar, meanwhile, was a result of Pakistan’s past policy of deploying proxy warriors. He was allowed to go free after being accused of helping stage a military coup in 1995. The PPP’s Benazir Bhutto named him as one of the suspects in a plot to assassinate her. As the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, suspected of being involved in her killing, he was released in early December 2010 and has finally been “droned” in 2017. He was closely linked to Ilyas Kashmiri, the pampered jihadi who joined Al Qaeda and carried out the most dreadful attack on the Karachi naval base in May 2011.

Kashmiri was killed by a drone strike in South Waziristan in June the same year. Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban and the reported mastermind behind Benazir Bhutto’s December 2007 assassination, was killed by a drone in August 2009. Earlier this year, a court acquitted a group of men he had allegedly sent down for the killing. The most wanted terrorist chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, became the next victim of the American drones, despite Pakistan’s protests, in November 2013, after he had captured and personally executed two ex-ISI officers, Khalid Khwaja and Colonel Sultan Amir Tarar alias Colonel Imam.

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