Events that occur in the tribal areas of Pakistan are often covered in a haze of ambiguity and uncertainty. Be it the casualties resulting from US drone strikes or from the actions of the Pakistan Army, ascertaining facts is always an uphill task.The region has essentially become a no-go area for most journalists. The few, who do operate in the territory, do so under severe limitations, risking their lives on a daily basis. Hence, the media is faced with two choices: don't report anything at all, until credible information arrives, which may take days, or may never arrive. Or, pick and choose from the limited available sources which routinely contradict each other.  The recent retaliatory action conducted by the security personnel in the Mir Ali town of North Waziristan Agency (NWA) highlights the predicament.

It all started with a suicide attack on the checkpost of the security personnel in the same vicinity. The media reported that at least five security personnel were martyred and thirty-four injured. However, the statement released by Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) claimed that two personnel were killed and twenty-eight injured. The rescue operation launched for the injured was also targeted by the militants. The retaliatory action that followed the same night is another tale of conflicting reports. ISPR’s press release states that twenty-three militants were killed when they “tried to ambush a convoy of security forces.” The next afternoon, ten more militants were killed during a search operation in a hideout of terrorists located in Mir Ali, NWA, who were busy preparing “vehicle borne IEDs” and “reportedly, most of them were Uzbek.” It certainly doesn’t help when even those with heavy presence in the area use terms such as “reported” rather than providing verified statistics.  On the contrary, media reports quote locals who claim that those killed in the retaliatory action were in fact, truckers and labourers present at the hotel which was encircled by the forces. North Waziristan MNA, Nazir Khan, also sided with the version of the residents and claimed that “local people retrieved the bodies of 23 truckers and labourers from the hotels and the security forces have stopped firing.”

Conflicting accounts have also become an integral part of the ‘drone debate’. No one really knows the truth. And even if someone does, no one knows whose figures to trust. Although, Pakistan has achieved a moral victory in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in passing of the resolution against US drones, lack of credible information is still a prevalent dilemma which acts as a hindrance towards establishing the counter-productive effect of the program in terms of measuring the true extent of collateral damage. Clarity is critical in all aspects of security affairs -- and here, even the numbers don't always add up.