The US drone program in Pakistan killed over 200 children, how is it any different from the APS massacre?

Published: June 2, 2016

The official said the compound was located in the Lorha Mandi area of Datta Khel tehsil, 65 kilometres west of Miramshah. PHOTO: AFP

Last week saw a lot of flurried comments once again condemning US drone strikes in Pakistan. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif in a meeting with United States Ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale, on May 25, 2016, expressed concerns over the US drone strike in Balochistan on May 23rd in which Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was reportedly killed.   

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had criticised the US drone strikes earlier, describing them as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. In an adjournment motion submitted by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar to the Senate, he said the issue would alter the security calculus in the region and that it posed new threats to national security and sovereignty.

While the protests over US drone strikes in Pakistan gain momentum now, it is questionable why this comes so late. The US drone strike which allegedly killed Mullah Akhtar Mansoor occurred in a province which has long been a ‘red line’ for Pakistan but one wonders why the death of civilians in other areas has been so passively accepted.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported the deaths of 966 civilians in Pakistan as a result of US drone strikes since the year 2004. The Huffington Post had reported last year that nearly 90 per cent killed in US drone strikes Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia were not the target.

Uncertainty over the identity of one killed by a US drone has never been uncommon. While Iran issued a statement that denied allegations that Mansoor entered Pakistan from Iran before being killed in a US drone strike, a passport found at the site of the US drone attack targeting the Taliban leader reportedly bore the name of a Pakistani man named Wali Muhammad who carried a valid Iranian visa according to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry.

According to the Washington Post and leaked intelligence documents, drone strikes conducted by the United States during a five month long campaign in Afghanistan caused the deaths of unintended targets nearly nine out of 10 times. In its 2014 report “You Never Die Twice, Multiple Kills in the US drone program” the UK Charity Reprieve had reported that in targeting al Qaeda leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults. They failed twice and Ayman al Zawahiri was reportedly still alive. In the six attempts it took the US to kill Qari Hussain, a deputy commander of the Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), 128 people were killed including 13 children. Further, public reports suggest some men on the CIA Kill List have ‘died’ as many as seven times.

The Obama administration had always portrayed drones as an effective and efficient weapon in the on-going war with al Qaeda and other radical groups. Yet classified Pentagon documents revealed in 2015 that the US military had faced “critical shortfalls” in the technology and even intelligence it uses to find and kill suspected terrorists.

On May 9, 2013, Chief Justice Dost Muhammad in Foundation for Fundamental Rights vs Federation of Pakistan & 4 others, declared the US led drone strikes in Pakistan, including the northern areas, to be illegal on the basis of both domestic law in Pakistan and international law. The court had recognised the human rights to life of the people living in Waziristan and ordered the Government of Pakistan to not only work towards the cessation of drone strikes by taking the matter to the United Nations (UN) but compensate the hundreds of innocent families who had lost lives and property as a result of the strikes. This never took place.

Ben Emmerson QC, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, had submitted his report on use of armed drones to the Council earlier that year after his visit to Pakistan with human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, and had concluded,

“It was difficult to justify the use of lethal force in such situations because there had to be proof of imminent threat.”

In September 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had also convened a panel to discuss the use of armed drones in counter-terrorism and military operations in accordance with international law. It had been pointed out then that the US drone program has amounted to be the largest extra judicial killing program in recent history, having killed over 200 children – a number larger than the number of children killed in the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar.

After the launch of a report demanding the court ordered compensation for drone victims, organised by the independent Foundation for Fundamental Rights and international legal aid charity Reprieve in December 2015, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan had said that he would seek compensation for victims of a controversial US drone strike programmed, vowing to take their cases to parliament and the courts. Earlier this month he said the use of drones are,

“Inhuman tactics of killing people through remote control, like on a computer game… dehumanising them, treating them like they’re from some other planet… not giving them basic rights or proving their innocence.”

If the death and suffering of a significant number of civilians in Pakistan as a result of these strikes fails to raise any sympathy it at least remains factual that the US drone strategy in Pakistan has always raised serious ethical and legal concerns. As early as 2012, Christof Heyns, the UN special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, told a conference in Geneva organised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that President Barack Obama’s attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere would encourage other states to flout long-established human rights standards. This would threaten 50 years of international law. Yet, here we are.


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.

  • Avinash Chaudhary

    The difference is:
    The drone attacks are carried out by USA. APS was by Pakistani citizen.
    Does it mean Pakistan is equally helpless in either of the cases?Recommend

  • SuperNeo™

    and How much Pakistan sponsored terrorism has killed world wide ?
    #Mariam Kizilbash this question is for you. how can whole world be fool and you are only smart nation ?
    its high time for Paksitan. introspectRecommend

  • Eddied

    The difference is that the Taliban specifically targeted school children for murder… and the difference is that Pakistan allows known terrorists to use its territory to attack a neighbor… if you surround yourself with Taliban terrorists you can expect more collateral damage when these terrorists are attacked…Recommend

  • vinsin

    Mansoor was in Pakistan, so was other all terrorists, so why Pakistani has not filed any case against him and let him prove his innocence, what stopped Pakistan in doing so?

    Did Pakistani Army asked militants and terrorists to prove innocence before killing them with planes?Recommend

  • quatro

    APS massacre specifically targeted children. Drone attack specifically target terrorist. I wonder whether author ever considered Pakistan’s responsibility in these civilians deaths? Some would argue that there would be no drone attacks if Pakistan didn’t provide sanctuary/support to these terrorist. Some would argue that the deaths of these terrorist resulted in saving thousands of Afghan Civilians who Pakistanis don’t seem to care about.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    Pakistan government and military plays this double game of criticizing Drone strikes in public while giving their concurrence in private. Pakistan army has been bombing Waziristan for over a year. There are 2 million IDP’s from Waziristan. How many children have been killed in the bombing? It does not matter because the Muslim military of Pakistan are bombing the Muslim children of Pakistan. Drone strikes take place in Pakistan and not in Iran or India because Pakistan allows drone strikes while Iran and India do not allow drone strikes. Iran or India do not provide haven to terrorists either and do not become allies in war on terror while tacitly supporting terrorist groups.Recommend

  • Laskero

    It is time that Pakistan gets serious about apprehending and eliminating these terrorists. We have known high profile terrorists moving about freely throughout the country, using our soil as a launch pad for their nefarious activities with impunityRecommend

  • Anoop

    You can ask the same about your Military’s carpet bombing of Waziristan in the guise of Zarb E Azb.

    Close 2 million people were internally displaced. God knows how many killed and labelled Terrorists(considering most of the Terrorists would have escaped to safer havens knowing an operation is pending) and their dead bodies paraded in front of the media claiming them to be militants.

    Drones are being used in an area where Pakistan doesn’t exercise sovereignty. If you claim you have sovereignty(and control), then why are so many dangerous found there?

    You can’t claim sovereign territory and not exercise control.Recommend

  • Mr Obvious

    No sanctuary for terrorist – no drone attacks. Comparing terrorist who target children with inadvertent war casualties is inappropriate – but something one gets used to if they read Pakistani newspapers. If you looking for bad guys I suggest you grab a mirror – it’s Pakistan that has the policy of using terrorist as strategic assets – it’s Pakistan that was hiding OBL – it’s Pakistan that turned a blind eye to TTP for years – and it’s Pakistan that continues to provide help to Afghan terrorist who target Afghan civilians ever day of the year.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Drones are the solution not the problem.The author is being ridiculous in her comparison.If Pakistan refuses to take out terrorists good or bad then they deserve drones.After 9/11 Pakistan received 33b usd to fight the so called war on terror but ended up housing Osama and his friend mullah omar.
    So if Pakistan won’t do it Americans will, so Pakistanis you deserve drones which are themselves approved by the punjabi armyRecommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Its about time someone spoke. Kudos to you. Whatever oncoming horde of Drone strike supporter say.Recommend

  • indiandude

    ..The US drone program in Pakistan killed over 200 children, how is it any different from the APS massacre?..

    Difference is the rent-an-army!Recommend

  • Sharath Chandra

    This is the result of the policy of trying to bleed India by a thousand cuts.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Let’s see, US DRONE PROGRAM “alleged” to kill some 200 children in collateral damage over the years!
    By comparison, PAKISTANS “GOOD TALIBAN” TERRORIST PROGRAM deliberately killed many thousands of civilians in Afghanistan over the same time period!
    Wonder when Miriam will ever write about that?Recommend

  • Rayyan

    Because these children were not studying in APS. If they had, the response would have been differentRecommend

  • vasan

    If u think it is not different, then ask your COAS to conduct Zarb-e-azb in the US army posts everywhere in the world. Otherwise it is better not to crib, lest the world talks about quetta shura, sanctuary for terrorists etcRecommend

  • maz3tt

    Why not Pakistan speak?

    1)because decision makers money is in US banks.
    2) takh-e shahi would be in danger,Recommend

  • Milind A

    Spot on!!! The author forgets that if the Americans don’t drone the terrorists, Pakistan will see more APS style massacres.Recommend

  • Vish

    Pakistan is the only country in the world that aerial bombs and kills its own citizens. Also it allows foreign countries like the US to bomb and drone Pakistani citizens. On top of all this Pakistan kills its own citizens on the orders of foreign countries like it did when China ordered it to storm the Lal Masjid. Recommend

  • Jayman

    Even the death of one innocent life is horrific no doubt. But the terrorists who find refuge in Pakistan are responsible for thousands of deaths elsewhere and use innocent people as human shields. Pakistani Air Force have also used planed to bomb terrorists. But we never know anything about the causalities. PAF do not have weapons nearly as sophisticated or accurate as USAF. Not even close. What we don’t know, we don’t care about.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Poor children in FATA are being killed by drones,Zarb-e-ajab air strikes,by Mullahs in turning them into live-bombs,and by foreign and local terrorists residing among them.Whatever or howsoever,it is people in FATA who suffer,partly for their folly of self-aggrandizement ,Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    @Mariam Kizilbash …. So your simplistic mind does not see a difference between death by result of collateral damage and willfully gunning down kids in act of terrorism ? No wonder Pakistani thinking is greatly mocked in world forum.Recommend

  • LS

    “Further, public reports suggest some men on the CIA Kill List have ‘died’ as many as seven times.”

    Those were the days when US told pakistan when and where the strike would take place only to find that the intended target was either swapped or was long gone… Now you get informed AFTER the fact… So yes, plenty of finger pointing but the blame only lands at one single place…

    Greatest Examples are:
    1) Kunduz Airlift
    2) Tora Bora Escape
    3) Shelling (NATO forces) and passing information to Afghan Taliban on the hills of Durand Line by Pak army to alert of imminent NATO attack.

    So can hide behind the humanitarian mask but the reality is way different… If the intelligence was NOT passed to the terrorists they WOULD be dead.. NOT requiring multiple strikes.Recommend

  • Ze-yom-Durrani

    Pakistanis are jokers they only write what they like to read and that is how they comfort themselves…Recommend

  • Rc Bazaar

    Many thanks for the exciting blog posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you are a brilliant writer. I actually added your blog to my favorites and will look forward for more updates. Great Job, Keep it up…Recommend