By S. M. Hali

The reprehensible drone attacks in Pakistan commenced in 2004, nearly three years after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. They have been conducted by the Special Activities Division of CIA. The question of the drone attacks targeting terrorists in Pakistan’s Wild West, the tribal areas is rather complex. To date 285 drone attacks have been carried out, which have taken a toll of 2,692 lives. It is not clear how many were actually terrorists and what number of collateral damage was suffered. The role of the government of Pakistan has been rather duplicitous. Pakistan covertly permitted the drones to operate from two of its air bases, Jacobabad and Shamsi but publicly condemned the drone attacks. When public outcry over the drone attacks reached a crescendo, on 4 October 2008 “The Washington Post” reported that there was a secret deal between the US and Pakistan allowing these drone attack, while US Senator Dianne Feinstein disclosed in February 2009, that the drones were being operated from Shamsi Airfield, 310 km southwest of Quetta and 48 km from the Afghan border. This disclosure created a furor in Pakistan and initially the government denied it but in December 2009, Pakistan’s Minister for Defence, Ahmad Mukhtar admitted that the Americans were using Shamsi Airfield.

The year 2010 was the deadliest in terms of drone attacks in Pakistan. A total of 118 attacks were launched, taking a toll of 993 lives. Since February 2011, when CIA operative Raymond Davis was apprehended in Lahore after slaying two Pakistanis in cold blood, relations between Pakistan and the US, especially their intelligence agencies ISI and CIA were terribly strained. They hit rock bottom with the May 2nd US Seals operation to take out Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the November 26, 2011 NATO attack on Pakistani military check-post at Salala, in which 25 Pakistan Army personnel including two officers were killed. Pakistan’s parliament took the harsh decision of having the US vacate the Shamsi Airfield. There was a 55 days’ lull in the drone attacks but on January 11 and 12 this year, two attacks have targeted alleged miscreants in Miran Shah and Dogga area of North Waziristan. Pakistani parliament is in the process of reviewing its terms of engagement with the US but the Parliamentary Committee on National Security has recommended that Pakistan should never permit drone attacks to be operated from Pakistani soil again.

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The drone attacks raise several moral and legal questions. The UN regime on targeted killing is quite clear; the parent country, where the attack is to take place must provide permission for the attack. There is widespread disagreement about whether suspected terrorists have rendered themselves morally and legally liable to lethal attack. Analysts opine that the widespread use of this modern technique of asymmetrical warfare raises troubling questions in just war theory, public international law, international humanitarian law, criminal law, human rights law, and legal philosophy.  On 25 March 2010 US State Department legal advisor Harold Koh stated that the drone strikes were legal because of the right to self-defense. Some US politicians and academics have condemned the drone strikes. US Congressman Dennis Kucinich asserted that the United States was violating international law by carrying out strikes against a country that never attacked the United States. Georgetown University professor Gary D. Solis asserts that since the drone operators at the CIA are civilians directly engaged in armed conflict, this makes them "unlawful combatants" and possibly subject to prosecution. A number of lawsuits have been filed against the reprehensible drone attacks both within the US and outside. The most famous is the legal case filed by journalist Karim Khan in December 2010, naming Jonathan Banks (his cover name)—the CIA Station Chief in Islamabad, to be responsible for the deaths of his close relatives. Resultantly, Banks was hastily pulled from the country. On 27 October 2009 UNHRC investigator Philip Alston concluded that the CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws.

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Brookings Institution has concluded that although accurate data on the results of drone strikes is difficult to obtain, it seemed that ten civilians had died in the drone attacks for every militant killed, which would represent a civilian to combatant casualty ratio of 10:1, which is unacceptable. With Pakistan’s Army Chief issuing a directive to shoot down US drones, it is high time the US revisited the use of drone attacks in Pakistan.