Many in Pakistan began observing the Muslim festival on Eid this past Saturday. Around the same time, the United States military began a fresh round of unmanned drone attacks in the North Waziristan tribal district of the country. The attacks have led to the death of 15 people (some are suspected terrorists and others are not), and have fanned the flames of anti-U.S. sentiment in the region. Attacks by unmanned American drones are very unpopular in Pakistan, particularly in the tribal regions, and many within Pakistan’s government complain that the attacks violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.
For its part, the United States has been consistent in affirming its belief that the attacks are necessary because Pakistan has provided a safe-haven for terrorist groups including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the al-Haqqani network. These groups have been directly linked to cross-border attacks in Afghanistan directed at U.S. service members and other coalition forces.
International observers have questioned the effectiveness of the drone strikes; while they may reap a large short-term benefit, many have questioned whether a “drone war” is winnable. The White House (since 2004) has routinely avoided questions on the subject. Neither the CIA nor the State, responsible for the lion’s share of the attacks, provide much in the way of details either, although they are quick to point out that at least nine of the top 20 high value al-Qaeda targets have been killed as part of drone strikes.
Despite its effectiveness, does the United States government, under the law of war, have the right to enter sovereign Pakistani air space and attack individuals residing within its boundaries? Should other countries have the same privilege (i.e. can the Mexican Air Force strike American drug kingpins in the United States as part of their war on drugs?)? Does the death of a terrorist or damage to a terrorist network now outweigh the deep, long-lasting resentment of the United States for future generations of Pakistanis?