President Barack Obama has at last acknowledged what has been undisputed news to the most casual news observer, that CIA-operated drones have been carrying out missions in the Fata area. His claim that they were targeting “Al-Qaeda and its affiliates” and reports about civilian deaths were not true cannot, however, fail to raise eyebrows all round. After all, if all 2,661 persons killed since the first of the 303 drone attacks in 2001, were militants and their affiliates, the phenomenon of terrorism would have fizzled out long ago. However, only a small number in the total toll have been confirmed as militants, while the rest were civilians who posed no danger to “the US and its citizens” – the reason that lies behind the drone strikes, according to the US President. Mr Obama made these remarks in a discussion with web users on Google Plus and YouTube. Till then, US officials had refused to talk about drones in public.
As soon Mr Obama owned these strikes, Amnesty International (AI) came out with a list of demands that the US might find hard to meet. It wants to know how the US has been monitoring the civilian casualties and whether there was any system of accountability in place for those guilty of civilian deaths. The AI’s questions are quite logical and extremely pertinent. Unless the operations are monitored to determine just who is being killed, it cannot be justifiably denied that civilian deaths have regularly been taking place. While welcoming the confirmation of the use of drones in Pakistan and calling it the “first step towards transparency”, AI wanted to know details of those killed and the legal framework under which these attacks were carried out.
On the other hand, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit has reiterated that the drone missions are illegal and that they constitute a violation of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty. Drones have not only added another irritant to the US-Pakistan relations at the official level, but also caused widespread anger and resentment among the public in Pakistan. Besides, they are counterproductive to the purposes of the war on terror, as Mr Basit has stated in his comments on the US President’s observations. He also added that Pakistan made itself clear to the US, repeatedly. Defence experts in the country have endorsed the contention of Pakistan’s former Chief of Air Staff that these pilot-less planes could be easily shot down. All that is needed is the government’s orders to do that. The public has been raising a hue and cry against these attacks, the corps commanders characterised them as “intolerable” and COAS General Kayani said only on Tuesday that the armed forces were fully prepared to confront any challenge to the country.