OPINION: The 'good' drones

Islamabad (Dawn/ANN) - The pine-topped lush landscape of Seattle, Washington, with its hills and rain-soaked greenery could not be more different from the craggy, burnished plains of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Yet despite the landscape at which they stare down, the skies above the former will soon be hosting the same wide-winged, aerial vehicles that are known so well on the edges of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

According to the Federal Aviation Authority Modernisation and Reform Act of 2012, signed into law by President Obama this February, all US local law-enforcement authorities will be required to make arrangements for the "safe integration of civilian drones into American airspace" by the year 2015.

The drones could be owned and operated by private individuals as well as law-enforcement. The law does not specify whether it refers only to unarmed drones for surveillance or armed ones for law-enforcement purposes.

The passage of the act has catapulted the drone issue, from a remote distant problem concerning only Afghanistan-Pakistan issues, to one front and centre in the American public sphere.

In its statement, the American Civil Liberties Union insisted that while it saw the utility of unarmed drones to accomplish basic government missions, it was seriously concerned that "the use of drones can really change the relationship of people with the government".

Disapproving sentiments are not limited to watchdog groups alone. A Rasmussen poll conducted in February, soon after the passage of the act, found that only 30 per cent of American voters approve of any sort of drones flying in American skies.

In the last weekend of April, a drone summit is expected to convene in Washington D.C. bringing together activists, lawyers and citizen groups together to formulate a comprehensive strategy to push back against the government's use of armed and unarmed drones in the US and elsewhere.

In Pakistan, the debate on armed drones has centred largely on issues of sovereignty and transparency, questions of who flies the drones and who selects the targets being the pivotal concerns. As a consequence, most believe that the problems surrounding drones could be solved if the technology was in Pakistani, as opposed to American, hands.

One story reported by Public Radio International asserted that a Pakistani drone which is to be called 'Burraq' is already being developed with the Chinese. According to the report, Pakistani drones have not only begun to be made but also have a long history.

Many have been developed by a private engineer named Raja Sabri Khan. Mr Khan admits to having sold designs to an unnamed company in the US and to the fact that drone design is not a new concept in Pakistan. Both he and retired Pakistani general Talat Masood, also quoted in the story, admit that drones whether American or Pakistani, are part of Pakistan's future.

It makes sense then to ask whether the problems Pakistanis currently attach to armed drones would simply dissipate if they were controlled by pilots in the Pakistan Air Force. Those holding this position would have to argue that the problem with drones is poised not on technology but strategy, making the foreign nature of the operation more problematic than its unmanned remote aspect.

If armed drones were operated by the Pakistani military against their own population, there would be more care, fewer missing bodies, less collateral damage and greater transparency. That, of course, is what the optimists rooting for Pakistani control of drones would say.

Human rights activists are wary of this solution, less amenable to believing that a controller sitting in a Pakistani airbase instead of an American one would somehow be more careful, less cavalier about pushing the kill button simply by virtue of his or her nationality. Their issue with armed drones is not the nationality of the controller but the inherent disparity of the encounter; the reduction of human beings to moving dots and homes to coordinates.

For the unmanned variety, the problem shifts from the temptation of not looking closely enough, to looking too closely and too intently at things never meant to be seen at all. Like a virtual raid, whose knowledge may never be possessed by anyone but the raiders, the drone that watches everything leaves nothing concealed from the eyes of the state or the vigilante.

The rights issues mentioned above have curious iterations in the Pakistani context where the staunchest opponents of drones seem to have problems not with the technology, its insidious inequality as a killing machine or mockery of individual privacy. In their vociferous speeches against drones, no one in the Difaa-i-Pakistan Council for example ever mentions these points.

Drones are bad indeed, but only because they are a curse imposed by a foreign power. Armed drones in the service of their own projects, to kill their own enemies, or unarmed ones to enforce strict moral codes on one and all would be quite welcome. A moral police with a fleet of drones that could see anything, anytime might well be every religious conservative's fantasy force.

Made in Pakistan or the US, fulfilling one political or strategic objective or another, drones are here to stay. Articulating opposition to arming them, and insisting on controls that circumscribe their limits does not consequently mean denying the wrongs that have instigated their use.

The colonisation of the private sphere by terrorists who hide behind women and children, intentionally pushing them in the path of missiles, the use of village homes as safe havens by those guilty of killing hundreds in suicide bombings is one of the most despicable tactics of warfare that the world has ever seen. The challenge in responding to them is not to simply, blindly oppose armed or unarmed drones, but to oppose them for the right reasons.

The writer is an attorney teaching political philosophy and constitutional law.


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Image of Asia: Tearing down squatters' homes near Manila
    Image of Asia: Tearing down squatters' homes near Manila

    In this photo by Bullit Marquez, a demolition crew begins to tear down a squatters' community at suburban Caloocan city, north of Manila, Philippines. Population growth and the lack of economic opportunities in rural areas have driven millions of Filipinos into the squatters' colonies that dot the sprawling metropolitan area in and around Manila. Most of the land they occupy is privately owned, and clearing the dwellings often results in violence. The landowner had offered about $1,344 in …

  • SE Asia Stocks - Mostly down; Thai shares near 2-week low

    BANGKOK, May 26 (Reuters) - Most sharemarkets in Southeast Asia fell on Tuesday with the Thai index ending at a near two-week low and the Philippines touching a near four-week low after trade data while ... …

  • China breaks ground on lighthouse project in South China Sea

    China hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the building of two lighthouses in the disputed South China Sea, state media said on Tuesday, a move that is likely to escalate tensions in a region already jittery about Beijing's maritime ambitions. China's Ministry of Transport hosted the ceremony for the construction of two multi-functional lighthouses on Huayang Reef and Chigua Reef on the disputed Spratly islands, state news agency Xinhua said, defying calls from the United States and the …

  • SE Asia Stocks - Thai, Philippine indexes weak after trade data

    BANGKOK, May 26 (Reuters) - Most Southeast Asian stock markets rose in line with the rest of Asia on Tuesday but the Thai index pared early gains after weak trade data in April, while the Philippine benchmark ... …

  • Is your home on top of a faultline?
    Is your home on top of a faultline?

    The Philippine Institute of Volcanoly and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) recently issued an updated and high-resolution "atlas" of the East Valley Fault and West Valley Fault, two major faultlines that run through sections of Metro Manila. Metro Manila may be due for a 7.2-magnitude earthquake within this lifetime, say experts from the institute, among them PHIVOLCS director Dr. Renato Solidum, Jr. According to records, the last major earthquake caused by the West Valley Fault took place 357 years …

  • Filipina maid photographs "modern slavery" in Hong Kong

    By Emma Batha LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Filipina maid in Hong Kong has published stark photographs of burned and beaten domestic workers to highlight the "modern slavery" she says has long been the city's shameful secret. "Hong Kong is a very modern, successful city but people treat their helpers like slaves," said Xyza Cruz Bacani, whose black and white portraits won her a scholarship from the Magnum Foundation to start studying at New York University this month. It's common …

  • Want to buy a brand new car?
    Want to buy a brand new car?

    Tired of fixing your old car? Maybe this is the best time for you to invest in a brand new one. BPI Family Savings Bank, the country’s leading consumer bank, is extending its newest campaign “Bagong Kotse, 1-Month Libre” promo until June 30, 2015 which allows potential car buyers to avail of a car loan term […] The post Want to buy a brand new car? appeared first on Carmudi Philippines. …

  • ‘Kentex owners still in Phl’
    ‘Kentex owners still in Phl’

    The daughter of one of the Kentex Manufacturing Corp. owners has assured the government that the businessmen are still in the Philippines, contrary to some reports that they have fled the country. Barbara Ang, daughter of Kentex shareholder Veato Ang, said her father and his business partners have no plans of leaving the country despite the razing of the Valenzuela slipper factory, which killed 72 workers on May 13. Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian also stood by his promise to punish any local …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options