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- Sunday, March 17, 2013 - From Print Edition

We live in very strange times. Even as Pakistan has said that ties with the US are now back to normal and no further tensions exist between the two countries, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Ben Emmerson, has said that drone strikes on Pakistani soil are a violation of the country’s sovereignty and as such illegal. Following a visit to Pakistan during which he met senior foreign ministry officials, Emmerson stated it had been made clear to him that no consent had been given by the government of Pakistan for the attacks by unmanned aircraft. He described the drone strikes as ‘use of force’ within the frontiers of another country. Emmerson is also studying drone attacks conducted in other countries. In the context of what appears to be a highly rational statement by the UN official, Pakistan’s own response seems a little out of tune. Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Masood Khan, while speaking at an event in New York, insisted that Islamabad in fact had no differences at all with Washington and that all matters had been sorted out. This certainly does not gel with Emmerson’s remarks.

During his visit to Pakistan and in detailed interviews with a range of officials, Emmerson was told that around 400 civilians had been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan. The fact that this figure varies with others claimed before by Pakistan is a different matter. The point is that there seems to be no consistency in Pakistan’s own stand on the matter. Its claims keep changing, confusing both the citizens of the country and the world community. The fact, as we all know, is that Islamabad knows a great deal more about the drones than it will admit – and this has been the case for many years. It is one of the reasons why confusion persists and the drone strikes continue. Had Islamabad been willing and able to take a clear line, either acknowledging that it had permitted the drone strikes as part of the battle on militants or stating that it completely opposed them and that they were carried out by the US on its own, things would have been simpler. They are not. The latest remarks by the UN official have complicated matters even more. But Emmerson’s words will be welcomed by almost everyone in the country and will help strengthen the case against drones, which kill indiscriminately as they steal over across borders.

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