The reprehensible drone attacks in Pakistan commenced in 2004, nearly three years after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. They have been conducted by CIA’s Special Activities Division (SAD). The question of drone attacks targeting terrorists in Pakistan’s Wild West - the tribal areas - is rather complex. To date 285 drone attacks have been carried out, which have taken a toll of 2,692 lives. It is not clear how many were actually terrorists and what number of collateral damage was suffered.

Meanwhile, the role of the Government of Pakistan has been rather duplicitous. Pakistan covertly permitted the drones to operate from two of its air bases - Jacobabad and Shamsi - but publicly condemned the drone attacks. When public outcry over the attacks reached a crescendo, on October 4, 2008, The Washington Post reported that there was a secret deal between the USA and Pakistan allowing these drone attack; whereas, US Senator Dianne Feinstein disclosed in February 2009 that the drones were operating from Shamsi Airbase - 310km southwest of Quetta and 48km from the Afghan border. This disclosure created a furore in Pakistan and initially the government denied it, but in December 2009 Pakistan’s Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar admitted that the Americans were using Shamsi Airbase.

The year 2010 was the deadliest in terms of drone attacks in Pakistan. A total of 118 attacks were launched, taking a toll of 993 lives. Since February 2011, when CIA operative Raymond Davis was apprehended in Lahore after slaying two Pakistanis in cold blood, relations between Pakistan and the US, especially their intelligence agencies, ISI and CIA, were terribly strained. They hit rock bottom with the Abbottabad operation, which was launched to take out Al-Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the November 26, 2011, Nato attack on Pakistani military checkpost at Salalah, in which 25 Pakistan army personnel, including two officers, were killed. Pakistan’s Parliament took the harsh decision of having the US vacate the Shamsi Airbase. There was a 55-day lull in the drone attacks, but on January 11 and 12 this year, two attacks have targeted some alleged miscreants in Miran Shah and Dogga area of North Waziristan. While Parliament is in the process of reviewing its terms of engagement with the US, the Parliamentary Committee on National Security has recommended that the country should never permit drone attacks to be operated from its soil.

Also, the drone attacks raise several moral and legal questions. The UN regime on target killing is quite clear; the parent country, where the attack is to take place must provide permission for the attack. There is widespread disagreement about whether the suspected terrorists have rendered themselves morally and legally liable to the attack. Analysts opine that the widespread use of this modern technique of asymmetrical warfare raises troubling questions in just war theory, public international law, international humanitarian law, criminal law, human rights law, and legal philosophy. On March 25, 2010, the US State Department Legal Advisor, Harold Koh, stated that the drone strikes were legal because of the right to self-defence. However, some US politicians and academics have condemned the drone strikes. For instance, Congressman Dennis Kucinich asserted that the US was violating international law by carrying out strikes against a country that never attacked it. Georgetown University Professor Gary D. Solis asserts that since the drone operators at the CIA are civilians directly engaged in armed conflict, this makes them "unlawful combatants" and possibly subject to prosecution. A number of lawsuits have been filed against the reprehensible drone attacks both within the US and outside. The most famous is the legal case filed by journalist Karim Khan in December 2010, naming Jonathan Banks (his cover name) - the CIA Station Chief in Islamabad, to be responsible for the deaths of his close relatives. Resultantly, Banks was hastily pulled from the country. On October 27, 2009, the UNHRC investigator, Philip Alston, concluded that the CIA is running a programme that is killing a significant number of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of relevant international laws.

Brookings Institution has concluded that although accurate data on the results of drone strikes is difficult to obtain, it seemed that 10 civilians had died in the drone attacks for every militant killed that would represent a civilian to combatant casualty ratio of 10:1, which is unacceptable. With Pakistan’s Army Chief issuing a directive to shoot down the US drones, it is high time Washington revisited their use in Pakistan.

    The writer is a political and defence analyst.

    Email: sultanm.hali@gmail.com