Dawn News

Distant killer

THE remotely piloted ‘drone’ has emerged as the ‘weapon of choice’ in US counterterrorism strategy. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that 4,000 people have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Drone attacks have sharply escalated under President Obama, who reportedly selects the ‘targets’ personally.

Throughout history, combatant powers have strived to utilise advanced technologies to defeat their adversaries. According to US officials, drone attacks have been highly successful in killing the top leaders of Al Qaeda and other ‘terrorist’ groups and advanced the goals of counterterrorism.

This is a debatable assertion. The terrorist leaders killed are rapidly replaced. How often has the US declared that it has killed the Number 3, 4 or 5 ranked Al Qaeda leader? The killings are counterproductive. They renew the conviction of the exclusively targeted Muslims that the US is endemically hostile to them. And, the strikes draw fresh recruits for terrorist or militant organisations, especially when civilians are killed.

As the UN rapporteur on terrorism observed, “Some states find targeted killings immensely attractive. Others may do so in the future.” Is the US prepared for a drone ‘free for all’ when other powers also master the technology?

The US drone attacks are considered illegal by most of the international community. One, the attacks are being conducted without the consent or despite the opposition of the targeted countries, in violation of the UN Charter. They also violate international humanitarian and human rights law.

Christof Heyns, the UN’s special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, reported that the US policy on aerial drones “to carry out targeted killings presents a major challenge to the system of international law” and some strikes “may even constitute war crimes”. He expressed special concern about targeting groups based on patterns of behaviour, rather than specific intelligence: so-called ‘signature strikes’. As regards the Al Qaeda justification, Heyns wrote: “It’s difficult to see how any killings carried out in 2012 can be justified as in response to (events) in 2001.”

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, at a press conference in Islamabad and in her opening statement to the 20th session of the Human Rights Council on June 18 “also expressed serious concern over the continued use of armed drones for targeted attacks”. Even the cautious UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern “about the lack of transparency on the circumstances in which drones are used”.

During the discussion on extra-judicial killings, China made a statement on behalf of 15 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Iran, asserting that the UN Charter and international human rights law — “include the prohibition of extra-judicial and targeted killings on the territories of other countries, in particular through drone attacks or other means”.

Pakistan is the prime victim of the drone attacks. Hundreds of strikes have been conducted on Pakistani territory notwithstanding its repeated official protests to the US and at the UN. According to Pakistani representatives, over 1,000 civilians have been killed in these drone attacks. It appears that Pakistan either does not have the military capability or the political will to interdict the drones. Obviously, it does not want to face the possible US retaliation to such military measures. It can, nevertheless, do a lot to dismantle the intelligence sources which are used by the US in drone targeting and strikes within Pakistan.

If even this is beyond its capabilities or courage, Pakistan should at least pursue a diplomatic or judicial solution to the blatant and continuing violation of its territory and its sovereignty.

Pakistan can present a proposal to the UN Human Rights Council asking the council to declare the unilateral drone attacks contrary to the UN Charter and international humanitarian and human rights law and initiate an independent inquiry into reports of civilian casualties inflicted by such strikes. It can go further and advance this proposal in the UN Security Council, of which Pakistan is currently a non-permanent member.

Alternately, or additionally, Pakistan can seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice declaring the drone attacks illegal; or lodge a formal complaint at the Hague court seeking legal restraint on the drone attacks and compensation for damages and deaths caused thereby.

Such ‘bold’ Pakistani actions are likely to evoke anger in Washington; but it can help to change America’s high-handed use of this distant killer.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Email feedback and queries to Dawn.com's editorial team, or visit our contact page

Comments (15) Closed

Jul 08, 2012 07:45am
Mr. Munir Akram - Granted this is illegal. However, this is no more illegal than the atrocious and sponsored terrorism that originate from Pakistan into other countries. Would you need Heyn or Pillay to state this, or is your approach very selective? Or are you merely whipping up Nationalism? Your utterances in the UN about nuclear strike capabilities were indecorous, as well. No one pushed you into it. You have dirt in your eye, Mr. Akram.
Jul 08, 2012 08:12am
This is the future, and it's just the beginning. It's too late to turn back the clock now. When the next generation of drones come online it's "lights out" for the jihad boys. Every last one. Sometimes justice has a blast radius. If you don't want fleas, it's best not to lie with dogs.
Jul 09, 2012 02:55pm
For those war mongers here, imagine these drone strikes happening to someone in your neighborhood and killing your family as collatoral from impact. How would you feel? You didn't know there was a terrorist hiding in your neighborhood and your family had nothing to do with it.. But unfortunately, since US has this weapon of choice, that's how it works.. Sorry about your family, but yeah, we killed that 'suspected militant'.. And for these so-called liberals out here, where in the world you can just go out there and kill someone on suspecision? Where is the due process of law to convict them in court and then decide the punishment if found guilty? With this kind of idelogy, in future China or Russia could be flying drones over US and killing anyone they feel is anti-state to them.. How would you feel then? Go get a life. everyone's life is as important as yours. Whether they be militant or their relatives & neighbors. Or what goes around, comes around..
Jul 08, 2012 03:27pm
Mr. Munir Akram is absolutely right in saying that these attacks are illegal and that they should stop.
Jul 09, 2012 12:43am
Drone attacks are wrong and should stop .However should he not comment on how the real or imaginary terrorists took root in Pakistan?
Jul 08, 2012 09:47am
It is like setting dogs on others and enjoying the fun. The worst thing is to claim that you have no control over the dogs. But, you claim that the dogs should not be harmed. If you can't rein in your pack of dogs, somebody will know how to deal with the situation.
Jul 08, 2012 08:59am
I am glad that Mr. Akram Munir highlighted what an illegal activity is being carried by the US and I commend him for his effort. Analogies like "If you don't want fleas, it's best not to lie with dogs" and saying the death of civilians is laughable is very shameful. Whatever happened to the rule of law. Andreas Brevik sits in a court of law in Norway after having killed 67 young people in cold blooded murder and "suspects" and their families, neighbors or whoever is in the vicinity is being blown to pieces without ever charging them. Why aren't the names of the people killed ever mentioned by the US or the Pakistani Govt. These are shameful days for the Pakistani Govt that has become a hired hand of the US and is willing to kill its own people for the sake of few dollars. It is about time that people of Pakistan wake up, say no to the aid and stand on their own feet.
Jul 08, 2012 02:42pm
fully agree.
An American
Jul 08, 2012 09:54am
Where is Pakistan's sovereignty when the terrorists live in Pakistan? Are they living in Pakistan with valid Pakistani passport or visa? If Pakistan doesn't officially support terrorism, then what are the terrorists doing on Pakistani soil? If you claim sovereignty, then you must have control over your territory and not allow terrorists to launch attacks from Pakistani soil. Otherwise others are free to go after the terrorists hiding in your territory and clean it up.
Jul 08, 2012 07:11am
What the author writes is laughable to say the least! Is he hinting that some day Pakistan will "master this technology" and then target the United States homeland? Clearly he is one on the payroll of these terrorists, that ironically are intending to kill the people of the same country for which he was a "former Ambassador"!
Jul 08, 2012 04:16am
OK, i declare this to be a balanced article , except , perhaps that the concept of a nation's *SOVEREIGNTY* is a relative and a subjective term in the US-Pakistan current affairs. So. why does not Pakistan chase all these sensible options : go to the ICJ and approach the UNO , establish the human rights issues of the situation--etc
Jul 08, 2012 04:17am
Any Pakistani approach to ICJ will be thrown out, as it has happened with every scatterbrained move to The Hague by Pakistan. You guys don't even think through things, but then what can you expect with such brilliant diplomats as Munir Akram. The fact is Pakistan has no territorial control and no sovereignty over the areas being Drone bombed, areas which are sending terrorists all over the world, including rest of Pakistan. Let the U.S Drones finish their jobs. Even people of Wazirstan/Fata support Drone attacks. Ask Farhat Taj and read her work.
Jul 08, 2012 04:23am
These drones would take off from Shamsi airbase, launch attacks in Pakistan, then land back at Shamsi. This was the modus operandi from 2001 to 2010, including during the tenure of Mr Akram as UN Ambassador. Pakistan has no leg to stand on in opposing drone attacks. Please stop trying to treat ordinary Pakistanis as fools.
Jul 08, 2012 05:13am
This is the same writer who suggested a few weeks ago that Pakistan should threaten to use the BOMB on the US / Nato troops. Now the writer is peddling a different story - that Pakistan should approach the ICJ, etc. Well, a more reasonable approach than his previous bombastic boasts and silly claims. Looks like he has got some sense now.
Jul 08, 2012 06:35am
UN , ACLU etc are all bodies that deal with symmetric wars and not gurella warfares. In fact the terrorism on this scale is so new that the world doesnot have right laws to deal with it. How can a state that either does not have the capacity or in actually using state terrorism can be dealth with, No one knows. Not even America.