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.
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For decades, the FATA were governed by an outdated British colonial law from the 19th century called the Frontier Crimes Regulations.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.