Not so simple


It almost never is

For a narrative to be marketable, it has to be dumbed down. There are almost no exceptions to this rule. All ideologies, flawed or not, have to rely on nuggets of easily digestible, not necessarily accurate – nay, necessarily inaccurate – tautologies. This is the art of pedagogy, the craft of propaganda. Politics, or at least a major part of it, being the business of peddling narratives, tends to dumb certain issues down. It is only when one is in government that the world moves from being a one-dimensional comic strip peopled by stick figures to an intricately interdependent, flesh and blood multiverse. It is only then that one weighs options in an infinite series of trade-offs.

The anti-drone attack narrative, which has been on a PR high of late, especially with the PTI’s march (up) to Waziristan, is simplistic, even to its own, more sophisticated subscribers. It says that the drone program is killing vast numbers of innocent people, a stance with which the government has neither agreed nor disagreed. It also says that the attacks are illegal, with which the government agrees wholeheartedly.

Let us examine this second claim first. Yes, the attacks are a violation of our sovereignty. FATA is Pakistani territory. But the concept of sovereignty is not as simple as we are being led to believe. Internationally, sovereignty is coming to be seen as a privilege that has to be earned. Responsibility is an aspect of sovereignty. What to do when a state refuses to be responsible for an area which is a springboard for attacks in another country? For instance, if there were a militia in the Indian state of Rajasthan, which was carrying out cross-border attacks in Pakistan, with cells within Pakistani soil, would a hot pursuit and engagement by the Pakistani forces into Indian land be a violation of Indian sovereignty? Especially if the Indians have been proved to be unsuccessful at the exercise themselves; especially when they are strongly believed to be colluding with the militia?

As far as the toll on the people of FATA is concerned, who does one believe really? A collateral damage of even one human life is one more than acceptable; let this not be denied. But when one weighs it against the other option, that is, a full-fledged military operation, the death count of the drone strikes has been low, especially when compared to the high-profile terror targets that they have yielded. But there is another option as well: inaction. Even then, the victims of the Taliban’s attacks in FATA, KP and beyond, are many times over the one who have died in the drone strikes.

This all doesn’t mean to argue drone attacks are kosher. They are a form of unaccountable power and this type of animal can be nothing but vulgar. They should be condemned. But the debate should be made more intelligent. And other violations of our sovereignty, other, greater causes of the deaths of innocents should be condemned with an equal vigor.


  1. Well said, Mr.Editor. But then again, who is going to explain to the likes of IKs of this world that if they are serious about deterring drones, arrange a peace march in Rawalpindi & not in Tank.

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