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Rafia Zakaria: Drones and Democracy

August 3, 2011

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As American troops withdraw from Afghanistan, we must realize the departure is only the end of the War on Terror. There is a larger, invisible war that will quickly take its place.

By **Rafia Zakaria**

Rafia Zakaria small.jpgMarch 17, 2011, must have been an intensely busy day at the fortified compound of the American Consulate in Islamabad. Behind the guard towers and barb-topped walls, beyond what any Pakistani eyes could see, Ambassador Cameron Munter was on the Embassy’s secure telephone line. He was calling the State Department, his message a plea to halt an imminent drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal northwest. Beyond the walls of the compound, Pakistan pulsed with rage at the release of Raymond Davis, a CIA agent who had fatally shot two Pakistani men who had been freed just the day before. A drone strike at this time, Ambassador Munter warned, would only imperil an already frayed relationship.

According to the AP exclusive report that divulges details of the exchange, Ambassador Munter’s request to the State Department was relayed to the CIA, where the agency’s new director Leon Panetta summarily rejected it. The drone strike went ahead as planned; four Taliban leaders and 38 innocent civilians were killed. The CIA claimed they were all militants, the Pakistanis and villagers on the ground insisted that the strike had targeted a village meeting or jirga. Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani termed the attack “careless” and “callous.” According to officials speaking to AP, the CIA was angry at Pakistan, at the arrest and detention of their agent, at the outing of the identity of their station chief in Islamabad, and this was payback.

The details of the exchange between Munter and the CIA on the drone issue are an evocative tableau of just how American democracy is being eroded by remote-control warfare. The drone program run by the CIA has never been officially acknowledged by the White House, despite the fact that it continues to exact hundreds, even thousands (admission by a CIA official that because of drone surveillance “no tall man with a beard was safe anywhere in Southwest Asia.” As the denouement related by the report suggests, diplomats representing institutions run by the executive branch of U.S government seem to have little control in determining the dynamics of warfare carried out in places like Pakistan. While Ambassador Cameron Munter must sign off on every drone strike that takes place in the country, his signature representing as it does the imprimatur of an elected branch of governance, is little more than a formality. His plea to halt a strike, in effect and actuality, can be easily undermined by the command of the CIA.

There are many reasons for Americans to oppose drone warfare; the misery of civilian casualties, the millions of displaced, the demographic changes that are spinning into ethnic war, all represent strong moral reasons for questioning the much touted wonders of remote control warfare. In recent years, none of these, broadcasted far and wide in Pakistani and Middle Eastern media, seem to have gained much sympathy in American hearts. But this latest iteration, of the feeble haplessness of an executive branch easily trumped by the CIA, should be an ominous warning in the upcoming days of American withdrawal from the region. As the Obama Administration ticks off the promises of troop drawdown and wraps up its stock of inherited wars, it is likely that more and more ground will be given to the CIA to conduct secret operations enabled through surreptitious tactics against an array of enemies demarcated as such by the agency. In this sense, American departure from Afghanistan represents not the end of the War on Terror but its transformation from a partly secret and unaccountable war to a wholly invisible one that no longer has to bother with the onerous, inefficient task of answering to the people even as it kills in their name.

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Rafia Zakaria is a U.S.-based attorney and teaches constitutional law and political philosophy.

  Rafia Zakaria: Defeat of the Drones: An art exhibition attempts to give visual reality to a war that is largely invisible. More
 
  Fatima Bhutto: A Flood of Drone Stikes: What the Wikileaks revelations tell us about how Washington runs Pakistan. More
     
  Rafia Zakaria: Muslim Grrrls: Our writer realizes that Sharia and feminism aren’t always mutually exclusive.More
 
  Rafia Zakaria: Curse of the Bomb: The bomb that was supposed to deter and defeat hasn’t frighten anyone into leaving Pakistan alone. More

To read blog entries from Rafia Zakaria and others at GUERNICA click HERE .

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