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On the Record

Drones in Pakistan

Peter W. Singer

Editor’s Note: In a video interview with Need to Know on PBS, Peter Singer talks about the future of military technology and the impact that drones have had in Pakistan.

HANNAH Yi [narration]: Shuja Nawaz – a native Pakistani – is the South Asia director at the Atlantic Council in Washington — a nonpartisan foreign policy institute. He says in years past, the Pakistani government approved the American drone strikes with a wink and a nod.

But the US relationship with Pakistan deteriorated last year when it was discovered that Osama Bin Laden had been hiding out in a home just 100 yards from a Pakistani military academy – suggesting that Pakistani authorities had harbored the world’s most wanted terrorist.

A few months later, the Pakistanis were angered by a U.S.-led NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

And amidst all this acrimony, the Pakistani government, at least publicly, has now taken a more vocal position against drone attacks within its borders.

SHUJA NAWAZ: Sovereignty is now the key issue. It’s a matter of honor and respect.

PETER SINGER: The Pakistani government took the public position “how dare you violate our sovereignty” except a key critical detail they don’t talk about. They were actually flying from a Pakistani air force base. It’s kind of hard to violate your sovereignty if it’s actually flying from a base within your own country.

HANNAH Yi [narration]: Peter Singer is with the Brookings Institution – a nonpartisan public policy group. He writes about the transformation of war technology. . . and says unmanned aircraft, like drones, has enabled the U.S. to fight the war on terror without sacrificing more American lives.

PETER SINGER: It’s a game changer in the history of war and technology. To me it’s a lot like where the computer was around 1980, where the airplane was around 1916. It’s a new technology that allows the operators, the users to do things they couldn’t imagine doing just a generation earlier.

HANNAH YI: So in the past 8 years there’s been an estimated 43 al Qaeda leaders who’ve been specifically targeted and killed by drones. Would that have been possible in that 8 year time frame if it hadn’t been for the drones that the U.S. was using in Pakistan?

PETER SINGER: It’s very unlikely we would have gotten that number of leaders frankly because you would have either had to put boots on the ground in a way that the president and the people around him and congress and American public would have been comfortable with – I don’t think they would have authorized that level of intervention in Pakistan. And in turn the Pakistani government – for all its public decrying of drone strikes – allowed them, allowed them to happen in a way they wouldn’t have allowed boots on the ground or even manned bombers.

Watch the full interview on PBS.org »

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