Military definition of drone suggests that they are an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAVs or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems, RPAS which are used in situations where manned flight is risky or difficult. These UAVs or commonly called drones provide 24/7 monitoring in the sky and normally drone can stay for 17 hours in the air while doing recce on ground with the help of real time images which help in target selection. The first recorded use of drones occurred on July 15, 1849 when the Habsburg Austrian Empire launched 200 pilotless balloons armed with bombs against the revolution-minded citizens of Venice. The first targeted drone strike by the United States occurred on February 4, 2002 in Afghanistan when a CIA predator drone fired on a group believing Osama bin Laden is part of that group but actually all killed were civilians who were gathering scrap material. Figures suggest that since the first drone attack in Pakistan by US in 2004 it has almost carried out 400 plus number of attacks so far with the year 2010 most deadly for drone strikes. In these drone attacks number of civilians dead are more than actually what US claims for that they are very precise and only target terrorists which is actually wrong.
We all have been hearing the term ‘Do more’ by US. Undoubtedly Pakistan has done more than its capacity to curb out militancy and eradicate elements of anti-state violence. Pakistan has gone beyond its resources to fight war against terrorism and undeniably it is successful in it. However in this war against terrorism Pakistan had to come across drones which initially US claimed that they are for surveillance but later on strikes by these drones indicated more of collateral damage than targeting terrorists. These strikes by an external force not only cause collateral damage but they are clearly violation of one country’s air space too.
In a recent drone strike carried out on 21 May, 2016 Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed while coming from Iran and was chosen to be targeted in Pakistani territory through drone in Noshki area of Balochistan province. This killing of Taliban leader not only halted peace process which was going on for regional peace and stability but raises serious questions on US policies towards Pakistan. Time and again, Pakistan has condemned drone strikes and summoned US officials in Pakistan on violations of its air space and use of drones inside Pakistani territory.
According to Pakistan’s standpoint these attacks are clear violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. These attacks not only generate distrust among local population particularly when operation Zarb e Azb is near its completion and create fears for rehabilitation process among civilian populace because of collateral damage which occurs as a result of drone strike. On March 28, 2014, UN Human Rights Council voted (27 to 6) to approve a Pakistan-sponsored resolution titled, “Ensuring use of remotely piloted aircraft or armed drones in counter-terrorism and military operations in accordance with international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law”. So far Pakistan has not forwarded its case to any international court which it can anytime telling UN that Pakistan doesn’t endorse or authorize US drones strikes in its country. Pakistan maintains a stance that these drone strikes are not only violating territorial integrity but international law too which does not allow indiscriminate killings of people without identifying who is innocent or who is perpetrator. Pakistan reiterates that these drones are not helping the cause of global war on terror rather signal discriminatory dual policies of US towards Pakistan. Particularly in recent past matter of F-16s and drone strikes have raised serious concerns towards few carrots and more sticks for Pakistan by US.
On the other hand US maintains its view that it is operating within the states’ right of self-defence according to Article 51 in Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and that US is involved in an armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their affiliates and therefore may use force consistent with self-defence under international law. Well, keeping US perspective on one side UN charter on legality of drone strikes, Article 2(4) of the UN Charter clearly states that all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state so there is no justification of conducting strikes inside Pakistan’s territory.
The US has mostly used the principle of self-defence to justify these drone strikes, but Pakistan is not directly involved in any conflict with US, so this claim of US stands nowhere. International Human Rights law, also known as ‘Law of War and the law of armed conflict’, is the legal framework applicable to situations of armed conflict and occupation. Its Article 51(3) of the 1977 First Protocol Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions mentioned that civilians shall not be targeted, unless they are directly involved in the fighting. Therefore, the Drone Strikes violate Article 2 of the Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War by disregarding the human rights of the innocent civilians killed in the strikes.
Recent media reports say that White House will soon release a report on drone strikes which will show statistics of deaths in drone attacks since 2009 and by manipulating the facts report will show that more terrorists were killed than civilian population in these attacks and will claim huge gatherings which were mostly targeted in Pakistan were confirmed terrorists merry making and hence use of drones by US at that time was legitimised and the future use of drone is permissible to US. Pakistan however time and again has reaffirmed its commitment to long-term regional peace and has given a loud and clear message to its adversaries that hostile intelligence agencies and their facilitators would not be allowed to stimulate trouble inside Pakistan. A delegation from USA, led by Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan Mr. Richard Olsan is on visit to Pakistan nowadays and availing this opportunity Pakistan must strongly convey its message to US administration that these drones are not at all acceptable and why Pakistani territory is chosen for such kind of acts. A strong missive is required by Pakistani authorities to take stand on violation of its air space, killings of innocents in such strikes and that US must limit its own war against terrorism. It must not inflict on Pakistan its choices of strikes and create distrust on its strategies for Pakistan. Hence, US with this communiqué must need to revise its policies for its most suffered ally in Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) which has not only affected the quadrilateral peace process but the mutual trust between US and Pakistan has also faced setback.
(The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, an Islamabad based think tank)