The Drone Dilemma

 

Much has been talked about the agenda of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to United States. Prime Minister has described drone strikes as a major irritant in Pak-US relations. During his meeting with President Obama, Prime Minister called for an end to drone strikes. President Obama did not assure Prime Minister regarding any change in American drone policy. Though both leaders in the joint statement did agree to base their partnership on the principles of ‘respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity’ yet they failed to articulate the world “sovereignty”, as US administration seems unlikely to reevaluate its drone policy and continuation of this policy constitutes violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Prime Minister’s visit was coincided with the release of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch’s report on October 22, 2013. The report detailed the deaths of innocent civilians in drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. It has covered the 45 strikes in North Waziristan between January 2012 and August 2013. Earlier, this week United Nations rapporteur after a detailed study termed United States drone policy a threat to global peace and security and called upon the United States to make data on civilian casualties public by ending the lack of transparency in this regard.

This is not the first time that legality of drone strikes has questioned, a year ago two prominent US Law Schools, Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law conducted a joint research in September 2012, and rejected US narrative about efficiency of drones in counter-terrorism strategy. The inference of all these studies has been the same as these all termed the use of drones as counterproductive, resulting in civilian casualties, targeting rescuers and motivating the youth of the area to join non-state armed groups. The research findings of these institutions that have international repute should not have been ignored by the United States, a self-proclaimed champion of human rights.

Human rights bodies have been renewing the debate from time to time to discuss the rules and procedures of International law and international humanitarian law regarding the drone warfare. Showing complete indifference to these legal issues, United States has been insisting on its stance about the use of drones as a ‘damage limitation’ tactic that targets terrorists with minimum collateral damage. Different connotations have been used by United States to define the so-called efficacy of the use of drones. Responding to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch’s report, White House spokesperson Jay Carney denied their claim of US having been violating international law and stated that US always made it sure that ‘counter-terrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable laws.’

Given the divergent national security interests of Pakistan and United States, it seems unlikely that US would reevaluate its drone policies. Though any major breakthrough in Sharif-Obama meeting was not anticipated yet a little hope was there due to the increasing global concern about collateral damage. Furthermore, change of government in Pakistan, new government’s initiative to hold All Parties Conference (APC) and its resolve to hold talks with Taliban are the additional the factors that revived optimism for future Pak-US relations.

To end the drone strikes has become an issue of legitimacy for Pakistani government. People of Pakistan have given mandate to the newly elected government to reevaluate its foreign policy vis-à-vis Pakistan’s role in war on terror and its relations with United States. Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the banned organization has put forward various preconditions to hold talks with the government, and the end of drone attacks is one of them. Apart from human rights violations, devastating impact of drones on social fabric of tribal society, it has been raising serious questions about the sovereignty of Pakistan.

President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif both pledged to have a durable and sustainable relationship between the two states. It is yet to see that despite having differences over fundamental issues any substantial progress could be possible and a ‘durable and sustainable’ relationship can be transformed out of political rhetoric.

 

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