Pakistan’s protests and the world outcry against drone attacks may not have resulted in it, but luckily for the incoming Pakistani government, President Obama has indicated a new, pared down drone policy. The use of drones would be wound down to end by the close of 2014. Besides this, they would be limited to targeting those who represent a “continuing and imminent threat” to the US. The responsibility of these attacks has also been shifted from CIA to the Pentagon and a secret court would have to ‘sign off on strikes in the future’. In an address to military and political leaders at the National Defence University, he expressed remorse at civilian casualties the drones cause, saying the death of innocent citizens would “haunt” him and those in the chain of his command “as long as we live”; yet he still considered the strikes legal and effective. However, the world bodies, including the UN, Amnesty International, human rights groups and eminent legal minds disagree and regard the drones a violation of international law. No doubt, it is a major shift in US policy to restrict the use of drones and end the strikes by end-2014, as it had so far underlined the point that the drones were a “weapon of choice” and cannot be stopped.
The incoming government in Pakistan will be celebrating the opportunity for a reset, with President Obama talking of the “cost of our relationship with Pakistan” and the years’ of pent-up feelings of the Pakistanis against not only the loss of civilian lives, but also the violation of the country’s sovereignty. And, equally importantly, the war on terror could not be a “boundless” war, and has to end. It has resulted in the ultimate sacrifice of 7,000 US soldiers and citizens and cost a massive amount of more than a trillion dollars to the US exchequer. Mr Obama also revived his old stance of closing down the Guantanamo Bay and urged the Congress to lift the ban on shifting prisoners from there. He believed that the threat from Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan had reduced, while its Arab counterpart was proving troublesome.
The new policy is some comfort to Pakistan, that has greatly suffered in the form of suicide bombings and has been arguing that drones are counterproductive because they prove to be a recruiting impetus for the terrorists. It would not have been too much to ask for the US President to have called an immediate halt to the drone strikes in the region, but the people of Pakistan will be thankful to have an end in sight, where previously none was visible. All that can now be hoped, is that the incoming government can reset Pakistan's troubled relationship with the US, and in the process convince them that the drone programme usage be kept to a bare minimum in Pakistan, with pre-approved strikes only.