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North Waziristan: Drones and Compellence

April 30, 2011

North Waziristan has witnessed 20 drone strikes in the first four months of this year, which is a relatively lower number than the previous year (in 2010 there were a record setting 104 drone strikes in North Waziristan or 8.67 strikes per month). The relative “silence of the drones” this year is mainly attributed to a lull following the imprisonment of a CIA agent, Raymond Davis, who was accused of murdering two men in Pakistan on 27 January. One day after the US paid diyya (thereby implicitly reinforcing sharia in Pakistan) to have Davis released there was a drone attack which killed 40-50 tribesmen attending a jirga near Datta Khel in March. Another 25 people were killed (reportedly including 3 women and 5 children) a few days ago. Yesterday, NATO helicopters violated North Waziristan’s airspace creating panic amongst the residents according to Khyber TV.

In addition to targeting militants, these actions may be part of an attempt to once again increase pressure on the Pakistani military. The US would like to see a full scale military assault on North Waziristan led by the Pakistani army in order to root out the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) and other militants fighting along side or under the Taliban banner. The Pakistani government, military, and intelligence services are all reluctant for a host of logistical, tactical, strategic, and political reasons.

If America is trying to use drone strikes to pressure Pakistan’s military, then this may help to explain Pakistan’s unusual reversal of position in early March when the military claimed that drone strikes were actually remarkably effective in killing Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. In other words, the surprising “admission” (which now appears to have been largely forgotten by Pakistani officials) may have just been a tactical attempt to take away US leverage by eliminating the argument that a ground invasion is the only way to root out militants effectively. The real question is why the Pakistani government abandoned its clever new tactic and returned to public denunciations of “intolerable” drone strikes (which rely on complicit support from Pakistan’s intelligence services). Was the original shift a miscommunication or an external manifestation of an intra-bureaucratic dispute? Did the reported slaughter of influential tribesmen as well as unarmed women and children force Pakistani elites to shift back to a denunciation posture for domestic political reasons? And/or did the US simply indicate that drone and other militarized forms of compellence would continue to escalate regardless of Pakistan’s new found acceptance of drones or the actual amount of collateral damage until Pakistan’s army invades North Waziristan?

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Vikash is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. His main areas of academic interest are (post-) globalization, economic development, and economic freedom, with a regional focus on South Asia