The war of drones

March 12, 2008

Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of nuclear physics at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, in The Times of India:

A drone is a semi-autonomous, self-propelled system controlled by an external intelligence. Suitably equipped handlers guide it towards an assigned target. The MQ-1B General Dynamics Predator, connected to high-flying US military surveillance satellites, differs from the low-tech mullah-trained human drone produced in Pakistani madrassas. But they share a common characteristic. Neither asks why they must kill.

Drones, machine and human, have drenched Pakistan with the blood of innocents. In 2006, a bevy of MQ-1Bs hovering over Damadola launched a barrage of 10 Hellfire missiles, costing $60,000 apiece, at the village below. They blew up 18 local people, including five women and five children. The blame was put on faulty local intelligence. The same year, a Hellfire missile hit a madrassa in Bajaur killing between 80 and 85 people, mostly students. Pervez Musharraf’s credibility stood so low that few believed his claim that those killed were training to become Al-Qaida militants. Indeed, while these space-age weapons have occasionally eliminated a few Al-Qaida men, such as Abu Laith al-Libi in January 2008, the more usual outcome has been flattened houses, dead and maimed children, and a growing tribal population that seeks revenge against Pakistan and the US.

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