Drone strikes in Pakistan: Next on UN agenda?
By Niharika Pandit, Journalism
On March 25, 2010 the legal advisor of US State Department Harold Koh went on air to claim that the US drone attacks in Pakistan were legal as an act of self-defence. He further justified that the US is involved in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda and Taliban therefore retaliation through force is fairly consistent with self-defence under International Law.
Many politicians in the United States have termed these drone attacks in Pakistan as “unlawful” and those disregarding the international law. This argument further dismisses the legitimacy of drone attacks in Pakistan as the latter never attacked the United States, which makes them unlawful combatants and a subject to prosecution.
Drone attacks in Pakistan by the US first started in the year 2004 but the numbers have soared from one in 2004 to 122 in 2010. Under Barack Obama’s administration the strike rate has gone up to 310 as opposed to Bush’s 52. In the year 2013 till date, the US has conducted 8 drone strikes in Pakistan already. The cumulative figures of death as estimated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism till January 2013 have been 3,299 deaths. More than thousand deaths of these drone strikes have been that of civilians and children.
Once again, Uncle Sam is trying to extend its war against Islamist terrorism but the damage to civilian lives does not seem to culminate. With a lesser degree of ruthlessness and decreased emphasis laid on ‘Islamists’ terrorists, several Islamist governments have also abetted the US in favour of drone strikes. In a report published on Wikileaks which was later published by Reuters revealed that the Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani not only persuaded the US to continue drone strikes but asked for more frequent attacks. Feb 11, 2008 cable as published in Wikileaks said, “Referring to the situation in Waziristan, Kayani asked if Fallon could assist in providing continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area.” However, Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik said that drone attacks have led to collateral damage.
Although the drone strikes began under Bush’s administration but the numbers have drastically increased under Obama’s regime. Recently, President Obama claimed on an online portal that these attacks were “highly focussed” and did not lead to “civilian deaths” yet figures of the number of casualties do not say so. Around sixty children have been killed in these drone attacks after Obama was re-elected for the next tenure.
The drones which were targeting several training camps run by Baitullah Masood in North Waziristan soon extended their purview by destabilising civilian government in Balochistan. Other theories also suggest that Obama’s increased importance to drone attacks is one of the many ways of killing terrorists rather than by imprisoning them in Guantanamo Bay which itself has become a contentious issue over violation of human rights.
Pakistan-US relations are complex. Increasing use of violence by the US as a part of fighting global terrorism has contested the territorial integrity of the Pakistani government and its autonomy to fight the state of civil unrest. Although publicly it has denounced the drone attacks causing civilian deaths yet in the undercurrent their tacit silence is a sign of agreement to these drone strikes.
There is a predominance of nationalist sentiment in the manner with which the American media justifies the act of drone strikes and bulwarks the claim of global terrorism even if it is at the cost of disrupting territorial sovereignty and loss of civilian lives. For instance, barring a few, the series of articles published in the New York Times bear a deep undercurrent of how many terrorists the US drones could target. Headlines such as ‘Militant leader believed dead in Pakistan drone’ and ‘Drone Strike killed No.2 in Al Qaeda’ support the same. Although there are debates which question the benefit of drone attacks but the suggestions posted are driven by nationalist sentiments; least importance is attributed to the talks about increased fear and loss of civilian lives. All that the commentators have to suggest is increase in diplomacy and less drone strikes to be observed by the US which will still lead to decimation of terrorists.
What we also need to understand here are the consequences of drone strikes over Pakistani civilians. As per the research paper titled ‘Living Under Drones’ by the researchers from Harvard and Stanford, the ramifications are manifold. As per the research, drone strikes lead to economic hardships and property damage. They impact mental health and compromise educational opportunities. One of the interviewees of Living Under Drones, Mohammad Kausar, a father of three, explained: “Strikes are always on our minds. That is why people don’t go out to schools, because they are afraid that they may be the next ones to be hit.”
What we now need to focus on is the role of United Nations Organization in the wake of condemnation of drone attacks by the US. The role is quite skewed. Firstly, drone attacks are not a new phenomenon. Post 9/11 scenario, in the garb of spearheading the march to end global terrorism, Bush’s government unlawfully invaded Iraq to fight against terrorism and the weapons of mass destruction while in 2004, drones strike began in full blow. To much dismay, no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. Once again, the US is trying hard to fight global terrorism by waging war in Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over a period of time, one can also assess the persistence of the long quietude of the United Nations Organizations over drone attacks. An inquiry to look into drone attacks has been ordered. According to the Guardian, Ben Emmerson, special investigator for the United Nations Human Rights Council, said at a news conference that the nine-month study would look at “drone strikes and other forms of remotely targeted killing,” Although, the Pakistani government claims to take up the issue to the next UN meeting, one can only wait for an action to be taken by the United Nation Human Rights Council.