Drone attacks: Unlawful killings, double standards

Published: November 25, 2010

Many innocent Pakistanis have suffered losses as a result of drone attacks

A recent report indicated that the US was considering expanding drone operations in Pakistan to now encompass areas surrounding Quetta. Pakistan vociferously rejected the expansion and said the US would not be allowed to expand the areas where drones operate.

Drone attacks have a history stretching back to 2004, when they started as part of George Bush’s war on terror. An independent tally by New America Foundation, shows that there have been 199 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan with approximately 103 in 2010 alone. The records state that till today between 1,276 and 1,955 individuals were killed, of whom around 965 to 1,420 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. The non-militant fatality since 2004 according to this record was 28 per cent, while in 2010 it was approximately 8 per cent.

Statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities indicated that US drones killed 708 people in 44 Predator attacks in 2009, but that only five of these were able to hit their real targets meaning that for each al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists killed, 140 innocent Pakistanis had to die.

US authorities continue to stress that the attacks have successfully helped kill a number of high-profile al Qaeda targets. They point to high profile successes like the killings of most wanted Tehrik-i-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, and other senior al Qaeda leaders.

Yet, a ratio of 140 deaths for one high profile target hardly spells success. Apparently, these strikes are not precision ‘one-bullet’ type of killings that kill only the intended target of the attack. There is always a horrendous ‘collateral damage’ attached.

Interestingly, there is more to this debate then just the measly collateral damage that officials brush off with a wave of their hand.  That the killings are unlawful themselves is often ignored. Most strikes that report the successful killing of ‘militants’ and ‘insurgents’ rarely identify the names of those killed. Who are they? What are the accusations and evidence against them? By what means has the US military obtained information about their ‘militant’ activities? Have they been tried and indicted in court? These are just some of the questions that need answers. Killing ‘alleged’ militants outside any zone of combat without proving charges is an extra-judicial killing and illegal by international law.

Another serious concern is how a state can allow its own citizens to be killed by a foreign power. Drone attacks in the tribal regions are a serious breach of Pakistani sovereignty. The fact that these attacks are carried out with the connivance of the government is another debate altogether.

Does the US not notice this extra-judicial killing considering it had created much uproar about a recent video that showed apparent Pakistani army personnel carrying out extra-judicial executions of militants? There was much concern about fears of illegal executions that are constituted as human rights violations and war crimes. But what happens when it is an unmanned US predator carrying out the executions via drone missiles that kill innocent civilians and also destroy infrastructure?

Drones have a proven record of having killed non-combatants just like any other terror attack kills innocent civilians. Both are worthy of condemnation and neither deserves to be tolerated. Terror attacks in our cities and drone attacks are invariably connected since after almost every terror attack that inhumanely kills innocent civilians, destroys infrastructure and disrupts everyday life, terrorists point to the continued drone operations as the motive. These predator attacks do nothing but make US installations in the country more vulnerable to attack. Because at the end of the day, when the law is flouted, and the state allows the perpetration of extra-judicial killings, a deadly cycle of violence steps in to fill the legal void.


Naureen Aqueel

A Karachi based journalist working as subeditor on the web desk of The Express Tribune

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

  • faraz

    A very small percentage of terror attacks in cities are connected with drone attacks. No drone attacks were conducted in Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai or Mohmand agency. One drone attack was launched in Bajaur. Most of the drone attacks target North Waziristan where majority of the taliban are those who dont attack our cities. In south waziristan, the drone attack of 2004 targeted Ahmadzai Wazir area, but tribals of Ahmadzai Wazir have never targeted our cities. And the Mehsud area of South Waziristan where TTP was located, came under drone attacks after several requests from Pakistan. Similarly, militancy in Swat and Malakand isnt related to drone attacks. The suicide bombers arent all pushtoons of FATA; many of the kids belong to areas where no drone attacks were launched, many belong to settled areas of KP, Southern and central punjab.

    The ratio of 140 to 1 is about high profile targets which includes Alqaeda and taliban leaders. It doesnt include the low and middle level taliban.

    Well sovereignty makes no sense when we have no control over our territory; nobody knows who lives there; who is a militant and who is innocent. If we are concerned about our sovereignty, we must first establish writ over those areas. We have always treated tribals of FATA as second class citizens. To create strategic depth, we allowed extremists to settle in those areas. We knew that Americans would pursue the militants entering FATA after 911 but nobody bothered to secure the border. Government failed to provide even the basic facilities of life like clean water, education and health. No development work has been carried out in areas which are in control of the army. Pro establishment intellectuals still talk about the virtues of FCR. The compensation for victims of terrorist attack is lesser for tribals than for people living in settled areas. Is there any doubt that we dont care about drones?Recommend

  • Kannan

    Ok other aspect which is not discussed in “drone-attack” whining is how can it be argued that Pakistan have a “right” to maintain terrorist sanctuaries and training camps where people,logistics are being prepared to conduct bloodshed in other countries? Afghan Taliban(who are coming from Pakistan sanctuaries) is attacking US,Afghan troops,civilians and infrastructure and Pakistan Army says its none of our business to do anything about it.So its either you do it(Pakistan Army cleans its terroritory by launching military operations) or we do it for you(launching drone attacks or ground operations)Recommend

  • http://www.pakspectator.com Sana Saleem

    A very serious issue that is less pondered…. Innocent people are being killed in the drone attacks :( But what can the Government do after all ? If it doesn’t allow the US, they are going to get no aid ! and so the poor Government is compelled to do this tothe innocent citizens.

    The Government, leaders and politicians have no guts or policies to take Pakistan out of such situation and so they find the easiest way. Why would they care if some other Pakistani is dying….. They are SAFE !!!Recommend

  • http://www.fattaurus.com Ahmed Ilyas

    Drone attacks are totally unjust and should be stopped immediately… Shame on our leaders for allowing the murders. Recommend

  • Saad

    We have to clean our own mess, as simple as that.Recommend

  • http://www.dunyanews.tv Muhammad Abu Bakar

    US Army Commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus said that Pakistani forces must take action
    For more details Visit

  • Scott

    I am an American citizen and I find the killing quite disturbing. There is no rationale. That said. I have extreme disappointment with, and distrust for, the citizens of Pakistan that would allow the blatant harboring of a murderer of innocents. So while I am disturbed by the drone attacks I take advantage of the right to voice my opposition here in the states to them, I am however still wondering how so many people who knew so much about someone so evil could sit by and watch while he worked.Recommend