Drones are NOT our friends

Published: June 22, 2012

With that many strikes, surely some are bound to hit the mark, but isn't the cost of this a bit high?

When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I work for a local charity representing civilian victims of drone attacks in Waziristan. When I tell them this, the reaction, even amidst fairly educated people, convinces me that there is a lot still to be explained about US-led drone strikes in Pakistan.

There have been more than 342 drone attacks that have claimed over 3,000 lives in Pakistan.

While missiles still fall from the sky and many are in favour of them, 3,000 is a huge number.

In this post I would like to respond to Pirzada Hasaan Hashmi’s blog titled “Drones are our friends” and for the general public, I am here to clear some myths about drone attacks.

1. Drone attacks do not target only terrorists or those those affiliated with terrorist activity 

According to estimates of independent sources, so far there have been over 342 such drone attacks within Pakistan which have killed as many as 3000 people, including women, children, humanitarian workers, the  elderly and the handicapped ─ none of them were terrorists or al Qaeda operatives.

To kill the 10 people named in Mr Pirzada’s blog, many innocent children have lost their lives. There is no justification on earth for this heinous crime.

While working for a Pakistani charity which legally represents drone attacks victims – the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) – I met people who have lost their  possessions, livelihood and family through a triage of drone attacks.

Most of the deceased were people quite like you and I, who really didn’t deserve this. For example, one victim mourned the death of his father who had been involved in trying to build community development centres for women.


2. Drone attacks are not based on reliable data and surveillance.

It has been widely reported that drone strikes in Pakistan fall into the category of “signature strikes”. This notorious modus operandi targets groups of men believed to be terrorist militants, but whose identities aren’t always known. In addition to these, local informants who serve as confirming witnesses for the attacks often intentionally give incorrect leads.

Despite the purported quality of drone footage, there are still many problems with drone surveillance. It is often pointed out that drones can only be as accurate as the intelligence that is used to identify the target.

Do you know that unmanned vehicles are being used to target mosques, funeral processions, rescue mission locations, and schools with the rapidity of an ardent teenager obsessed with his Play Station?

Reliable data – what a joke!


3.  Drone attacks are not a legal and legitimate source of self-defence under the UN Charter.

Contrary to popular belief, drone attacks are not legal. Addressed under Article 51, an attack on a state by a non-state actor can trigger the right of self-defence.

However, as the ICJ has recognized, Article 51 only preserves an inherent right of self-defence. If a state simply provides weapons or logistical support to a non-state actor, which in turn uses force against a second state. This does not constitute an “armed attack” by the first stateArticle 51 specifically requires that self-defence measures taken by states shall be immediately reported to the Security Council.

It has been reported in local newspapers that the ratio of killing by these drones between militants and innocent civilians has been a shocking 1:10 respectively. How fair is that? You do the math.


 4. The Pakistan government can do something 

The joint session of Parliament unanimously passed a resolution on May 14, 2011, wherein it was strongly asserted:

“…unilateral actions, such as those conducted by the US forces in Abbottabad, as well as the continued drone attacks on the territory of Pakistan are not only unacceptable but also constitute violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, international law and humanitarian norms…”

There are a number of things the Pakistani government can do to protect the rights of its citizens, prominently the right to life guaranteed by Article 9 on the Constitution of Pakistan. As demanded by FFR in court in the course of its current litigation, it can provide redress for the criminal offences occurred, assert its territorial sovereignty by calling for a UN Resolution for the US to immediately cease all drone attacks in its region, use its right of reparation under the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on state responsibility, and approach the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of its victims itself.


Of course drones are effective in hunting down the sanctuaries of militant groups. With that many strikes, surely some are bound to hit the mark.

However, don’t you think that it is high time to stop shutting our eyes to the exact cost of this?

Do you think drone attacks are necessary in the fight against terrorism?

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Mariam Kizilbash

The author read her LLM from University College of London and has worked in human rights NGOs in Islamabad and London. She is currently a legal researcher for Corruption Watch (UK).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.