When UN rapporteur on human rights and countering extremism Ben Emmerson visited Pakistan in March this year, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari asked him to stay away from media attention.
He was here to investigate 24 cases of innocent victims of drone attacks. He quietly met with some victim families and government officials, and looked at data put together by the Centre for Research and Security Studies after research in FATA, and particularly in Waziristan.
Before leaving Pakistan, he underlined in a statement that US drone strikes violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and should be stopped immediately. Emmerson said Pakistan needed to be given an opportunity to establish peace in the country, in reference to the 46 strikes inside Pakistan during 2012 that some militants cite to justify their terror campaign. The CIA carried out 72 drone strikes in 2011 and 122 in 2010. This year, the number has gone down to about 23 so far.
[quote]Pakistan must not use Taliban’s disapproval of drones as the basis of its own stance[/quote]
An attack on a Jirga in North Waziristan that killed about 40 innocent people in 2011, and the killing of 83 civilians in a January 2006 attack on a madrassa in Damadola, were amongst the cases documented by the CRSS.
Incident like these drew attention to the killing of innocent civilians in drone attacking. Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and several UN forums cautioned against the use of the predators to hunt down Al Qaeda linked non–state actors, saying it sets a dangerous precedent.
This argument often resonated in our private conversations at the United Nations in New York too, where diplomats from leading European nations wondered why their own countries desperately wanted the drone technology.
Christof Heyns, another UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings (summary or arbitrary executions), had also objected to the American use of drones, which he said clearly undermined international laws. Some of the drone strikes “may even constitute war crimes”, he had said.
Even Cameron Munter, the former US ambassador to Pakistan who wrapped up his diplomatic assignment prematurely in the summer of 2012, stood out among the critics of drone strikes, suggesting they heightened anti-US sentiment. Recent reports by the UN and Amnesty International have stirred up a global opposition to the drone strikes – the first major diplomatic challenge to American unilateral militarism.
From a Pakistani perspective, the issue needs to be looked at in four ways. Firstly, Pakistan’s muffled protests have finally found international support, emboldening Premier Nawaz Sharif to ask President Barack Obama to put an end to this campaign. So far so good.
Secondly, Pakistan must reposition itself and ground its opposition to drones in legality, rather than morality. It must not use the militants’ disapproval of the drones as the basis for its anti-drones stance. Why wouldn’t militants be averse to the elimination of foreign, Al Qaeda-linked or Pakistan Taliban militants, who too are violating Pakistan’s sovereignty and continuously undermining its interests?
Thirdly, although the drone campaign is waning, Pakistan needs to address the reasons that provided the CIA to justify drone attacks, particularly over the Waziristan region – the cobweb of trans-border militancy led by the Haqqani Network. The network works as an umbrella organization for all shades of Pakistani, Afghan, Arab, Arab-African, and Uzbek militants allied with Al Qaeda. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan also benefits from the largess of the Haqqanis, which the Pakistani security apparatus probably still considers an “unwanted necessity.”
Fourthly, and frankly, a number of young people from Waziristan we come across feel delighted whenever a militant is taken out by a drone. While many are scared of becoming the unintended innocent victims of the drones hovering over their heads, they still appear favorably disposed towards the strikes as a useful tool against the militants that the Pakistani military is unable to take on.
[quote]The problem arises from Pakistan’s own failures and inaction[/quote]
This view of course is far from the one grounded in legality that keeps resonating in the rest of Pakistan as well as abroad. But any legal narrative must be accompanied by the will and a demonstrable plan of action against people or groups that represent a threat not only to Pakistan but are also seen as sources of instability and violence in the neighboring countries.
Pakistan needs to devise its own strategy to counter all the non-state actors present on its soil, rather than relying on Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch for making noises about an issue that has resulted from Pakistan’s own failures and inaction. Without removing those causes, or at least being seen as working on the problem in a credible way, any international goodwill or support will not be permanent. Nor will the aggressive US posturing, such as drone strikes, stop altogether.