But none of the drone strikes would happen without the consent or acquiescence of the targeted states. In both Yemen and Pakistan, earlier strikes were
carried out with the tacit approval of their respective governments. Their intensity has waxed or waned in response to the changing dynamics of domestic
politics. This suggests that both states retained considerable authority over the attacks.
In 2002, the very first drone strike in Yemen was launched with the direct approval of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. To avoid fraught questions
of jurisdiction and legality, it was agreed that Yemen would assume responsibility. But the charade collapsed when, in a television interview, the
then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz took credit for the assassination. Feeling betrayed, an incensed Saleh refused the U.S. permission to carry
out further attacks, and for the next eight years, there were none. They resumed in 2009, only after Bush had left office and Saleh struck a new deal with
the Obama administration. They escalated once protests weakened the Saleh government -- but dropped again after Saleh was removed and stability returned.
The first drone struck Pakistan in June 2004, when Pervez Musharraf was president. By the time he stepped down, in August 2008, there had been 16 more. But
with the ascension of the pliant Asif Ali Zardari, the attacks escalated. By the end of Zardari's term, there had been 351 further attacks. Zardari had
granted the U.S. the cart blanche that his predecessor had presumably withheld. But the number of strikes dropped when, beginning in 2011, relations
between the U.S. and the Pakistani military soured. There have been 14 so far this year; in 2013, there had been 128.
The attack on the mountaineers shows that in the targeted states, where blowback is inescapable, people have a more urgent need to see the drone war end.
Only by inducing their governments to withhold cooperation can they force Washington to stand down. The stronger and more popular the government, the
greater will be its capacity to resist. The drone strike earlier this month seems intended to forestall such a possibility. It forces on a government that
is still finding its feet the onerous choice of either losing favor with Washington by resisting, or losing credibility at home by remaining silent.
Musharraf and Zardari, according to Wikileaks, had resolved this dilemma
by protesting in public while acquiescing in private. Sharif will be judged by his actions.
Sharif's government responded to the last attack by issuing a furious demarche, but it took less than a month for the U.S. to launch another attack. How
Sharif responds this time will determine the fate of the drone war. In the last general election, he and other critics of the "war on terror" roundly
defeated its supporters. Unlike his predecessors, he has a popular mandate to find a political solution to Pakistan's security problems. The U.S. can of
course ignore Pakistani wishes, but Sharif has options. He can, for example, force cooperation by again blocking NATO's supply routes that run through