Our Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar's famous statement about drone strikes "US not listening,' which portrays helplessness more than anything else, found a place in Arab News, the leading Saudi English language newspaper, drawing nasty comments from readers, most scathing of which derided our claim to be called an independent country, and another blaming the armed forces for being ineffective, despite consuming a large part of the budget. However, to be fair to the armed forces, it has to be said that a former air chief, Air Chief-Marshal Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed did say that Pakistan has the capability to shoot down drones but the order must come from the civilian government. With recent discussions of all aspect of our relations with US by the parliament and issuance of guidelines, the civilian government now seems to be very much in the driving seat and must issue appropriate orders.

The issue of drone strikes has been taken up in earnest in the United States and peace activists, lawyers, journalists and retired military officials held a two-day conference in Washington, at which participants highlighted the illegality of the drone strikes, and a much higher toll on civilian population than is admitted by the US. Journalist Jeremy Scahill who recently traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen said, "Those who order a drone strike act at once as prosecutors, judges, jury and executioners," adding "this is lawless activity that the US is indulging in around the world." Pakistani attorney Shazad Akbar who had been denied US visa for fourteen months because he sued CIA for drone strikes, finally managed to get the visa due to hard lobbying by international peace groups, spoke at length at the conference. He showed a photo of a teenager named Saadullah, who was helping his mother in the kitchen when a drone hit their home in Fata in 2009 in which attack he lost his legs. Another teenager, 17-year-old student Sanaulla got burnt alive when his car was hit by a drone missile in 2010. He also showed photos of Bismilla family: mother, father, a daughter and a son, all killed in a drone strike. At a time when conscientious people around the world have taken up this issue on our behalf, there is surprisingly little organised activity against drone strikes in Pakistan, which is shameful. We just had another missile strike in Miramshah, as if to tease and taunt our government and us all. The recent round of our talks failed, because of the unwillingness of the US to tender an apology. I hope our officials will not reopen Nato supply routes just on the receipt of an apology, but will also seek compensation for our soldiers killed, and secure a pledge for stoppage of drone strikes and other violation of our territory.


Karachi, April 30.