It’s the inclination, stupid!
It is one thing for President Asif Ali Zardari to say it. It is entirely another thing to take him seriously. We are talking about Mr Zardari’s Archimedes-like statement: “Give us the drones and we will take out the militants ourselves.” Some visiting US officials and journalists have found this demand promising.
It is also extremely absurd.
The United States is using unmanned aerial vehicles to attack specific al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders because it cannot use inexpensive, conventional methods like getting a bunch of troops to go there and arrest or kill the targeted individuals. The United States cannot do it because they are in Pakistani territory, and sending troops without an agreement with the Pakistani government amounts to an invasion. An invasion is not only illegal under international law, but also causes the Pakistani government and the people to get very worked up. The use of Predator & Reaper drones, is somehow considered to be less of a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. (A aero-geopolitical version of the vexed legal question: when is rape a rape?)
The Pakistani government, by definition, does not violate Pakistani sovereignty when it storms a building in its own territory. It also does not, generally, violate international law. It might get some Pakistani people worked up, but no more than if it were to use drones for the purpose. So if Mr Zardari really wants to take out the militants, then there’s nothing—save the Pakistani military establishment—really stopping him. But if the military establishment is stopping him from getting troops to storm Taliban leaders, it is also going to stop him from using drones for the purpose. The problem then, is not the non-availability of drones, but the unwillingness of the Pakistani military establishment. Mr Zardari & his civilian friends can’t fly those drones, can they?
Now unless the idea is to paint the American drones in Pakistani colours while flying them out of Pakistani air bases, but controlling them remotely from bases in the US, Mr Zardari’s idea doesn’t make much sense.