Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aimed well, drones have their purpose

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Last week a U.S. drone strike killed Pakistan's Public Enemy No. 1, Hakimullah Mehsud, the vicious leader of the Pakistan Taliban.

Mehsud led a terror network blamed for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians in suicide bombings. He was linked to the 2009 attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan that killed seven agency operatives. He was linked to the 2010 attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square. The FBI had a $5-million bounty on him.

The U.S. drone program has come under enormous pressure from critics who say it claims innocent victims. President Barack Obama has vowed to provide more transparency in how targets are chosen and more accountability for strikes. But the death of Mehsud shows the enormous value of this high-tech warfare. An international threat who was most likely beyond the reach of conventional troops has been felled. His predecessor met the same fate by the same means.

Pakistan's leaders denounced the U.S. strike as a violation of their country's sovereignty. The drone campaign is unpopular in Pakistan, making it an easy target for Pakistani pols. But the politicians' outrage appears to be for public consumption.

The Washington Post recently reported that "despite all the denouncements, top officials in Pakistan's government have for years secretly endorsed the program and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts. ... Pakistan's tacit approval of the drone program has been one of the more poorly kept international security secrets in Washington and Islamabad."

Since the death of Mehsud, the world has heard too few Pakistani voices like that of Zafar Jaspal, a professor of international relations at an Islamabad university. "If criminals are being eliminated by drones, we should not turn them into heroes," he told The Wall Street Journal. "The government is giving the impression that a disaster has happened."

Case in point: Pakistan's interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who accused the U.S. of sabotaging nascent government peace talks with the Taliban via the drone strike. Khan described Mehsud's death as "the murder of all efforts at peace."

A blow to peace? Since 2006, Pakistan's leaders have announced many peace deals with the Taliban terrorists in the volatile Waziristan tribal region. Over and over, these attempts have collapsed, each time giving insurgents a chance to regroup, rearm and replenish their ranks.

The Taliban vow revenge. They promise to anoint a new leader. The job is likely to come with a short-term contract.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2013 A15

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