Until Islamabad can enforce the rule of law, and as long as terror cells remain operational inside the country's borders, there's no way around it.Mian Kursheed/Reuters
America's covert drone war isn't what the main lines of debate in the U.S. make it out to be: It's the consequence of many decades of politics, militancy, and violence -- and that history is why both Washington and Islamabad are using drones to strike at militants. Ignoring that history to focus only on reported U.S. activity misses the point, and distracts from the real challenge posed by the double game that Pakistan has been playing.
The United States relies on drones to strike militants because it doesn't have any better options. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where most militants live and drone strikes occur, is a political wasteland with little law enforcement -- leaving policymakers with few options for pursuing the terrorists that continue to kill thousands of Pakistani civilians (and actively support the insurgency next door in Afghanistan).
For decades, the FATA were governed by an outdated British colonial law from the 19th century called the Frontier Crimes Regulations. The FCR don't allow for the normal rule of law -- rule was implemented by "political agents" (a version of the imperial viceroy) who acted as advisers for the secular tribal leaders. But when Islamabad granted the tribal areas the right to vote in 1996, they forbade the formation of political parties -- meaning any politician had to campaign as an independent. Islamists, who rallied support through the mosques and madrassas, soon marginalized any secular figures -- including the traditional tribal leadership.
It is a system seemingly designed to foster unrest & militancy -- and under the Taliban's predations the tribal leadership of the FATA has been brutally persecuted.
Islamabad has taken some halting steps to end the FATA's political isolation: late last year, President Asif Ali Zardari expanded political and legal reforms to the region, allowing political parties to field candidates for parliament. Though these reforms have not substantially altered political life in the tribal areas, they are a welcome first step toward addressing one major cause of local militancy.
To end finally the threat of Islamist militancy in Pakistan, however, requires the Pakistani government to stop supporting it.
In the midst of the Afghan civil war, in 1995, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto " capitulated to [Pakistani intelligence's] persistent requests for unlimited covert aid" to the Taliban, which she described to U.S. officials as a "pro-Pakistan force."
Islamabad then refused to help the United States apprehend Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s. By this point, decades of Pakistani elites' deliberate politicization of Islam had created a monster they could no longer control. Still, they tried, and Pakistan's intelligence service sent those militantswest to fight in Afghanistan and east to fight the Indians in Kashmir. Those militants eventually found a home in the FATA, where they could operate in a legal no-man's land.