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Play books for drones?

January 23, 2013

Pakistan will take up the issue of drone attacks on its territory with the US ambassador in Islamabad as well as other officials in Washington, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said on Jan 23.

She said "so far only media reports suggested that the CIA had been allowed to continue drone strikes inside Pakistan, but if reports about the US Congress giving blanket powers to the CIA were correct, the matter would be raised with the United States at all levels”.

A day earlier, Pakistani senators had deplored a US bill allowing more drone strikes inside Pakistan.

The Obama administration is completing a counterterrorism manual that will establish clear rules for operations involving targeted killings. The guidebook would contain a major exemption for the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan.

Earlier in Sept 2012, a report commissioned by Reprieve had estimated that between 474 to 881 civilians were among 2,562 to 3,325 people killed by drones in Pakistan between June 2004 and Sept 2012.

The legality of US-led strikes has been questioned on various fora by the country's political leadership and the matter had also been raised by the UN human rights chief who had demanded in June 2012 a UN investigation into the drone strikes.

To quote questions from a recently published editorial: “Pakistan, as the Post reports, will be excluded from the new rules being developed for at least a year and perhaps up to two years. Why? “Imposing the playbook standards on the CIA campaign in Pakistan would probably lead to a sharp reduction in the number of strikes at a time when Obama is preparing to announce a drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan that could leave as few as 2,500 troops in place after 2014,” according to the Post. This is a remarkable admission and essentially makes clear that drones are being used to satisfy political timetables of the US. Concerned that post-2014 the regional environment may not permit as many strikes, could the US be rushing through strikes in Pakistan that more measured decisions would veto? That possibility is all the more stark given that the new rules will be immediately implemented in Yemen and Somalia. Is the Obama administration claiming that what’s good enough for Yemen and Somalia is somehow a bar too high when it comes to Fata?”

“Equally troubling is that the architect of the ‘play book’ will be the next director of the CIA. In effect, John Brennan has exempted the organisation he will lead from implementing the very rules he has authored when it comes to Pakistan. The Post story notes, “Senior (US) administration officials have expressed unease with the scale and autonomy of the CIA’s lethal mission in Pakistan.” Why the unease?”