In this post Mehrunisa Ijaz takes us on the rocky ride of drones. She also provides a glossary towards the end for anyone new to the drones jargon.
US drone first hit Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2004. Ever since drones sprung, they are snowballing out of control, growing more damaging with each repetition and making the nation more apathetic. Barack Obama, within days of his commencement as President, legalized CIA’s clandestine operation to persist President Bush’s tactic of fighting Terrorist organizations (Taliban and AlQaeda as in this case), in the name of preemptive self defence, using drones. Drones have in fact considerably increased since then.
Even so, US has denied to have officially authorized the CIA run program, while Pakistan now refuses to have allowed it. We cannot go with the discordant pod of rumors an enigmatic association like CIA hatches to achieve whatever its goals are. The gravity of the situation cannot be understood, as the confidentiality of the program restricts that.
ll the secrecy and unaccountability prevents evaluating the collateral damage done. We can’t be sure of the true loss that the civilians undergo, depending on the news from pseudo US government representatives or Pakistani military sources. Researchers’ entry is not permitted by the military and militant groups in FATA. Also the views of citizens remain unexpressed as they dread retaliation from the militants or the military. So the strategic effect of drones cannot be accurately assessed.
We can’t tell what’s true and to what extent when the sources tell us that they separately oversee the suspected militant cells and satellite phones and run “joint monitoring operations with our US and UK friends”. This goes to show how extensive the cooperation
is, even though some UK parliamentarians don’t acknowledge the drone attacks in Pakistan.
“My grandmother and I shared a love of blue skies. There are many where I live. I was excited for the skies that day…
As I helped my grandma in the field, I could see and hear drones overhead but wasn’t worried because we’re not militants… I no longer like blue skies. In fact, I prefer gray skies. When the sky brightens, drones return and we live in fear.”
— 13 year-old Zubair Rehman testifying before Congress at drone briefing about the drone strike that killed his grandmother
The question of violation of human rights, the indiscriminate killings, the injuries of civilians and the issue of sovereignty of Pakistan is overshadowed by Pakistan’s unexpressed consent to drone attacks. Drones at first were backed by Pakistani leaders. That said, Pakistan has, to some extent, control over the target selection and keeps close tabs on suspected militants. Some military leaders have made peace deals with the combatants to either protect or have some kind of support from them. Some targets are often tipped off and therefore helped to escape, upon US sharing target information with Pakistan. This sometimes leads to the combatants taking refuge in civilians’ dwellings, which then obviously have to be bombed. Hence, Pakistan paves a way for more intrusion in its land by delegating the responsibility of tossing out terrorists, to anti-state outfits. So can we say that US has overstepped the boundaries and disrespected Pakistan’s sovereignty? If so, does this validate US’ claim that Pakistan is both “unable and unwilling” to do away with terrorism, thus, drones are justified in their (US) national interest.
Conformity with international humanitarian law is under question, which US and Pakistan both are subject to. The CIA’s covert program is an extrajudicial execution. A leading international law scholar at Notre Dame, Mary Ellen O’Connell stated:
“Members of the CIA are not lawful combatants and their participation in killing persons evenin an armed conflictis a crime.”
This view was also supported by the eminent Georgetown and former West Point scholar of the laws of war, Gary Solis.
“…Even if they are sitting in Langley, the CIA pilots are civilians violating the requirement of distinction, a core concept of armed conflict, as they directly participate in hostilities.”
-Professor Solis, opEd in the Washington Post.
Besides being socially, economically and politically disempowered, drones leave behind the people of FATA uncertain and anguished, untended and disregarded, especially those who have nowhere to hide. Pakistan must define its part in this counter-terrorism policy.
Pakistan has to uphold the rule of law and give fundamental constitutional rights to FATA. We should have the reign of law and not US in our land, where parliament is disallowed to legislate for FATA and so are the jurisdictions of courts. No parliamentary act can be
enforced there if not directed by the President of Pakistan, the Chief Executive of FATA.
As for the US, it should compensate and redress the victims of drone strikes, as it does for Afghanistan. Claims for compensation can also be made by the victims in US district courts under the Alien Torts Statute. Furthermore, if the US shows no signs of curbing the use of drones, the CIA director Panetta abort the mission. Instead of boasting about the success of the mission, Panetta should explain to the public how drones are legitimized. Better yet, the covert CIA mission should be a military run program overseen by the Defense Department, Senate and judicial review to make them accountable for their doings.
The Author adds a Glossary here for anyone new to the readings on drones
clandestine: characterized by, done in, or executed with secrecy or concealment, especially for purposes of subversion or fraud
collateral damage: the killing of civilians in a military attack
combatants: a person or group that fights
commencement: the act or instance of a start
compensate: the restoration of property or rights previously taken away, conveyed, or surrendered
confidentiality: spoken, written, acted on, etc., in strict privacy or secrecy; secret
consent: permission, approval
constitutional: of or pertaining to the constitution of a state counter-terrorism: terrorism in reaction to or retaliation for some previous act of terrorism
covert: concealed; secret; disguised
drone: an unmanned aircraft or ship that is guided remotely
enigmatic: resembling an enigma; perplexing; mysterious
extrajudicial execution: legally unwarranted plan
intrusion/intrude: to thrust or bring in without invitation, permission, or welcome
judicial review: the power of a court to adjudicate the constitutionality of the laws of a government or the acts of a government official.
jurisdiction: the extent or range of judicial, law enforcement, or other authority
legislate: make or enact laws
preemptive: taken as a measure against something possible, anticipated, or feared
pseudo: false, anonymous
sovereignty: supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.
tactic: a plan, procedure, or expedient for promoting a desired end or result
Arbour, L. (2012, May 18). Foreign Policy. Unmanned and Dangerous.
Bergen, P. & Rowland, J. (2012, July 4). Drones decimating Taliban in Pakistan. CNN.com.
Johnson, K. (2010, April 5). U.S. Defends Legality of Killing With Drones. The Wall Street Journal.
Mazzetti, Mark. The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.
Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban: Islam, Oil And The New Great Game In Central Asia. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2000.
Scahill, Jeremy. Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. New York: Nation Books, 2013.
Solis, G. (2010, March 12). America’s unlawful combatants. The Washington Post.
For more on stats, see:
See id. (according to Blair, “covert action should be retained for relatively short duration operations . . . . If something has been going for a long period of time, somebody else ought to do it, not intelligence agencies”).
(2013, January 21). Senators deplore US bill allowing more drone attacks in Pakistan.