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January 28, 2018

Drones and diplomacy


January 28, 2018

The haze of uncertainty surrounding Wednesday’s drone attack in Kurram Agency is a reminder of the many issues raised by the illegal US drone war. The US has claimed that the attack killed members of the Haqqani Network while Pakistan has said it was on an Afghan refugee camp. At this point, it is difficult to confirm the veracity of the US claim but ultimately that doesn’t matter. There can be no justification for targeting a refugee camp. There have been no greater victims of militant violence and the various superpower wars in Afghanistan than the millions of Afghans who have had to flee their home country. They are in danger once again of being victims of violence in a place where they sought safe refuge. The larger point also stands that the US drone war is a willful violation of international law. To use deadly force against a country with whom it is not at war can never be accepted. That this particular drone strike seems like an attempt by the US to pressurise Pakistan at a time when ties between the countries are at a low makes it even worse. Innocent civilians should not become pawns in a diplomatic spat.

Pakistan, too, should not use this drone strike as a way of pushing unrelated policy objectives. Authorities have suggested that the possibility militants may have been present at the refugee camp when it was struck by the US shows the urgency of repatriating Afghan refugees back to their home country. This reads like an unfortunate scapegoating of the refugees for a problem that is not of that their making. The refugees have already suffered so much and, with the Afghan Taliban continuing to carry out attacks in Afghanistan at will, sending them back at this time would unnecessarily place them in grave danger. We got an illustration of that on Saturday after an ambulance bomb in Kabul killed almost a hundred people. None of the stakeholders in Afghanistan, be it the warmongering US or the ineffectual Afghan government, have shown that they are capable of bringing peace to the country. Pakistan, too, cannot deny its own past role in bringing Afghanistan to where it stands today. Both Pakistan and the US need to push the Afghan government to reach a negotiated settlement and bring relative normalcy to the country. Until then, we have a responsibility to the refugees who have sought safety in our country. The Trump administration is likely to step up drone attacks as it sends more troops to Afghanistan. Using every forum at our disposal to prevent and condemn such attacks needs to be our priority.

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