ISLAMABAD: The government informed the National Assembly on Monday that 339 drone attacks had been recorded in the country since 2004, according to findings of a number of unofficial organisations which followed America’s policy to use drones worldwide. A written answer submitted to the house in response to a question said that 400 civilians had died in the tribal belt as a result of the attacks. There was no mention of the number of terrorists killed.
The focus of the answer was on how the government disapproved of the attacks, termed them a violation of the country’s sovereignty and was building pressure through likeminded organisations, countries and the UN against their legitimacy.
Minister of State Khurram Dastagir Khan was filling in for the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz.
Nabil Gabol of the MQM criticised Mr Aziz’s continuous absence from the house and asked the speaker to ensure his attendance in view of the importance of his ministry.
To a flurry of questions in which members sought a clarification whether the government had any underhand understanding with the US government to allow the use of drones in the tribal areas, Mr Khan’s categorical answer was ‘no’.
He said the government hadn’t found any written agreement between Pakistan and the US on the use of drones, but it could be safely assumed that the previous two governments led by the PML-Q and PPP had silently agreed, hence they never forcefully raised the issue.
Dr Shireen Mazari of the PTI asked if there was no such agreement, why the government did not take adequate measures to stop drones from entering the country’s airspace.
“Pakistan and the US have a broad-based relationship and considering its importance the government is trying to resolve the issue of drone attacks,” the minister said.
Mahmood Khan Achakzai of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party urged the government to tell the people why it couldn’t stop the Americans from using drones in the country.
The prime minister in his first speech in the National Assembly on June 5 had reaffirmed his party’s stance that drone attacks must end. The Foreign Office lodged a strong protest with the US government against recent drone strikes.
During a recent visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Pakistan the issue was discussed in detail, the minister said, claiming that since then the frequency of the attacks had decreased.
He said Pakistan’s stance had been endorsed by UN Counter-Terrorism Special Rapporteur Ben Emerson who said during his visit to Pakistan in March that the drone attacks violated the country’s sovereignty and had resulted in the death of around 400 civilians.
On Aug 19, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay told a Security Council meeting on protection of civilians that “the current lack of transparency surrounding their (drone) use creates an accountability vacuum and affects the ability of victims to seek redress”.
She said she was “seriously concerned about human rights implications for the protection of civilians from armed drone strikes carried out in the context of counter-terrorism and military operations, including in Pakistan and Yemen”.
Replying to other questions, Mr Khan said the army was adequately responding to unprovoked firing by India from across the Line of Control in Kashmir, but the government was against escalating the tension. “We have raised the issue at all available forums.”