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Pakistan Says Drone Strikes Have Been Effective

An unarmed U.S. 'Shadow' drone is pictured in flight in this undated photograph, (File)

An unarmed U.S. 'Shadow' drone is pictured in flight in this undated photograph, (File)

A top Pakistani military commander acknowledged this week that the U.S drone strikes against militant hideouts have been an effective weapon in the anti-militancy fight.

Analysts say the rare public admission by the powerful military will help remove misperceptions about the American drone program that has targeted al-Qaida and Taliban-linked fighters in the country's tribal region on the Afghan border.

Pakistan's lawless North Waziristan region has been the focus of most of the missile strikes that the unmanned U.S spy plans - or drones - have carried out against al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants.

U.S army officials believe the mountainous Pakistani border district has become the "epicenter" of international terrorism and is being used for attacks on coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

In recent years, U.S. drones have stepped up missile strikes on militant positions in the North Waziristan region. But alleged civilian deaths in these raids are being cited as a major source of growing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, a vital U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism.

Publicly, the powerful Pakistani military and the political leadership have been condemning drone attacks as a violation of the country's sovereignty. But it is widely believed that local authorities help with intelligence information for the CIA-run drone program.

But the Pakistani general leading troops in the North Waziristan has for the first time publicly acknowledged the U.S drone attacks are hitting mostly militants and al-Qaida fighters.

Major-General Ghayur Mehmood spoke to a group of Pakistani reporters on a rare trip to Miran Shah, the administrative center of North Waziristan.

The Pakistani general says that information the military has gathered from its sources suggest most of those killed in drone attacks are hardcore militants, and the number of innocent people being killed is relatively low.

The official paper distributed among reporters says that there have been 164 drone strikes in the militant-dominated region of North Waziristan since 2007, killing 964 "terrorists". There were 171 al-Qaida fighters among those killed, mostly belonging to central Asian and Arab countries.

Analysts like former army general Talat Masood suggest that the rare admission by the Pakistani military about the effectiveness of drone attacks could be exploited to make the general public understand the dilemma their country is facing.

"Because on one hand the drone attacks are a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and it is also a violation of international law. But at the same time, they have a certain tactical utility in the sense that Pakistan has lost control over these areas and if the American drones help in containing these forces and also killing some of the militants, specially their top leadership, then it will facilitate Pakistan's fighting against the militant forces," Masood states.

Ayesha Siddiqua is a social scientist with deep insight into Pakistani military affairs. In a country where the army is seen as the main power broker, she says the acknowledgement about drones being a useful tactic against militants is likely to help political leaders to seek legitimacy for the strikes in public discourse.

"It basically means that the political dispensation is under greater pressure, is much more answerable to the people and, therefore, they have to at least cook some stories. But in reality, the military which is not answerable to any public, it is also a party to the decision of conducting drone attacks," Siddiqua said. "So I think the most significant thing is that the Pakistani army is not shedding its responsibility of being a party to the decision to the drone attack [and that] intelligence is provided by our own sources."

The United States does not acknowledge the drone campaign but American officials describe the missile strikes as an important weapon against militants. Observers say the Pakistani military's nod to the effectiveness of the U.S campaign could serve the interest of both countries in sending a message to critics of the drone program that they are avoiding civilian deaths and that the strikes are militarily effective.