Dangerous skies.

LAST week a camera-equipped fixed-wing propeller drone crashed on to the Orange Line train terminal in Lahore's Thokar Niaz Beg area, causing a fair bit of panic among the authorities, who initially suspected it may have been an attempted act of terrorism, or perhaps a dry run for a future attack. Police traced the drone to a man named Hamid, who claimed to run a business selling and repairing commercial drones in Lahore's Hall Road market. Hamid claimed that he was test-flying the drone and it crashed because it went out of range, but the police have taken him into custody on the suspicion that he may have been trying to reconnoiter the area through his drone for some less than kosher reasons.

A few months back, following a spate of terrorist attacks in various parts of Pakistan, and in particular the deadly attack on Chinese nationals at the gate of Karachi University, the Sindh Police banned the use of commercial drones in Karachi's District South out of fear that they could be used by terrorists to stage an attack on government buildings, foreign missions and other 'sensitive' installations. This fear is not unfounded and, in fact, it only speaks to part of the deadly potential even commercial drones possess when placed in the hands of the imaginative and amoral. The distinction of 'commercial' is important, because when we think of weaponised drones the mental image that is conjured is inevitably that of the dreaded Predators and Reapers raining death from the skies or, more recently of the Turkish Bayraktars and other loitering munitions.

But the use of much smaller, easily purchasable and modifiable drones for staging attacks has been picking up, with the pioneers of this strategy being the Islamic State group in the Syrian and Iraqi theatres. Here, multi-propeller and small fixed-wing drones were first seen loaded with explosives - essentially like flying IEDs - when they were deployed against Kurdish peshmerga in 2016 on a limited scale. The following year saw the creation of an actual department within IS dealing exclusively with the development and weaponisation of unmanned aircraft.

Recently, Mexican drug cartels have been seen using modified commercial drones to drop improvised explosives on their enemies, creating a new dimension to Mexico's bloody cartel wars. Here, the finger is being pointed at the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has been using drones for such attacks since 2017, converting drones into flying bombs by...

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