An Islamabad high court judge has ordered that murder charges be brought against former head of CIA in Pakistan, Jonathan Banks and former CIA lawyer John Rizzo for 2009 strike that killed at least three people. Both men have left Pakistan and the United States government is highly unlikely to extradite them to Pakistan to face charges owing to their policy of protecting operatives caught in compromising situations at all costs – such as Raymond Davis. The order remains completely powerless to do anything; a fact that the judge is surely aware of. As it stands the court order is nothing more than a political statement, one that indicates that despite the fact that the government and the US having worked out an agreement over the drone strike, many sections of the Pakistani populace still harbour contempt for the drone campaign.

The drone campaign was a major point of protest in the past couple of years; several major politicians made it one of the core tenants of their agendas, such as Imran Khan. The government’s inability to present a coherent explanation over who authorised them or if they are even authorised or not led to severe pressure being put on the government. And rightly so. The campaigns were an exercise in extrajudicial killings without due process, infringed on Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty and were wildly imprecise, leading to upwards of 400 civilian casualties since 2006. Now that the Pakistani military has commenced operations against militancy in the tribal belt – the same people the drone strikes targeted – the issue is on the back burner. The occasional strike is ignored, even lauded.

The court order reminds both the US and the Pakistani establishment that these issues still remain relevant and the relatives of those who lost their lives in the deadly campaign will continue to seek accountability. The government will inevitably try to play down the political nature of this legal order to maintain friendly relations with the US. The police have been instructed not to file charges and the order itself will eventually be challenged in a higher appellate court. But this is not the end, as the undercurrent of discontent go away. The government must present a retroactive explanation for the drone strikes and right now is the perfect time with public opinion arrayed against militants.