The Idiocy of US Drone Attacks on Pakistan

Oct 28, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: The Diplomat

Buzz. Buzz. The buzzing sound continues while you huddle in a quilt in a corner of the room, shivering. The buzzing sound pauses; you peek out of the quilt and slowly emerge. Buzz: it reverberates and you are driven into hiding once again. After some time, you squint at the sky from the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the aerial annihilating machine. But if you hold your life dear, you can’t let it spot you! The white monster flies above you – you crouch down and observe its extended tail as it drifts away to cause chaos and carnage elsewhere. You’re safe, but for how long?

We all hate drones. They kill innocents. Women die. Children die. Buildings fall. Fear grows. But even beyond this thick jungle of emotional rants and dramatic piques, all rationality concludes that the idea of drone attacks is myopic, counter-productive and dotted with ethical and legal complications.

The first question is whether drone attacks are legal, and if not, who should be held accountable? Drone attacks date back to 2004, when they were still an oddity. U.S. officials said in 2009 that there was consent from the Pakistanis for what the Defense Department calls a “foreign internal defense mission.” Under international law, such an action would not be illegal if it had the Pakistani government’s consent. While recently some elements of the government have vehemently assaulted the US for the drone attacks devastation, they have failed to act practically. They could issue a formal complaint to the UN (Sudan recently complained to the UN about unlawful Israeli aerial assaults over its territory) or as some analysts claim, Pakistan could even defend its airspace and pulverize the slow-moving drones. This inaction and negligence is often construed as tacit approval of such attacks. The common man can only deduce for he cannot look into the murky waters of such ‘back-door diplomacy’.

Another exciting argument used to justify drone attacks is Article 51 of the UN Charter, which allows a nation, “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense” and thereby warrants that the US targets militants allegedly plotting against the US and harming their interests in Afghanistan. However, not only is Article 51 only applicable in extreme circumstances, it is only relevant when an “armed attack” occurs against one state by another (as per ruling of the International Court of Justice) and is effectively traced back to a particular country. The linchpin here is that there are anti-US militants everywhere in the world – Middle East, Russia and even within the USA, but the right of self-defense cannot be used so loosely and free-handed against all of them now, can it? The Pakistani militancy is neither a ‘direct’ armed threat to the US, nor is it possible to conclusively trace any attack back to the Pakistani government. The US has clearly interpreted self-defense as preemptive offense, seriously undermining the legality of such attacks.

Perhaps, the greatest stupidity in drone attacks is that they are counter-productive. A recent study by Stanford and New York universities concludes that drone attacks traumatized civilians and only have a 2% accuracy rate. This means they terminate their specific quarry only 2% of the times. This may seem fine as long as the militants are killed but what happens 98% of the times? Unnecessary collateral damage and civilian casualties. Crudely, 100 drone attacks may kill 2 terrorists and 98 civilians.

The heartless, anti-terrorism fanatic may still be on board – the 2 culprits were killed, weren’t they? Yes, they were. But 98 civilian deaths don’t go unnoticed. These are 98 people, with individual identities, roles and relations in society, not 98 termites. Each unnecessary death fuels anti-American sentiment – welcome seven days of tyre-burning, window-breaking, embassy-stoning and road-blocking. But it doesn’t end there – sometimes, trauma translates into radicalization. People previously indifferent about the US, now end up joining militant groups – this does not happen because they share the devious intentions of most terrorists; they simply seek to avenge their lost ones. The causes are different but the means are the same. So, the drone attacks which were supposed to quell insurgency actually end up magnifying it. The original purpose of the attack is defeated and the situation only worsens.

Here is what BBC has to say: “We don’t want to join them,” said 24-year-old Mohammed Youssef, “but the drones are compelling us.”

He lost two uncles and two cousins in a drone strike in North Waziristan in October 2008. “When I saw their bodies in pieces, my heart wanted revenge,” he said. “I wanted to get the people responsible and finish them off the same way.”

Militants killed: 2. Militants created: 98*n, where n is the number of related people who are hungry for vengeance.

It cannot be denied, however, that the Pakistani government has done little to combat terrorism. The Haqqani network remains shady and the militant operations in the north-west are geographically restricted and seemingly half-hearted. But the question is whether it is actually prudent to use drone attacks because of the magnitude of the problem and the apathy of the government, even when they are clearly ineffective?

“Nothing justifies the attacks.In a situation like this, the government needs to realize that their sovereignty is violated on a daily basis. By a country that isn’t even all that effective in carrying out these drone strikes.Who ends up bearing the brunt of it? We do. Countless lives are lost, families are torn apart, infrastructure is destroyed, and yet the US is nowhere closer to winning its War on Terror than it was in 2004.

Drone attacks aren’t the answer. They should never have been the answer if USA kept in mind the Geneva Protocols, the Hague Conventions, the UN Charter which it so readily became a part of. Conveniently keeping its countless violations of their clauses under wraps.

The least our government could do is demand some sort of assurance of the efficiency of these drone attacks instead of becoming a global doormat but in practical terms, Pakistan should take a harder stance on the matter and condemn the drone strikes more actively. USA can’t afford to completely be on Pakistan’s bad books, and so the government should use that to its advantage.

Greater cooperation between the country’s’ intelligence agencies, and covert operations to track down the terrorist camps would probably yield better results without the use of over-aggressive means. We can see how the drone attacks simply increase the death toll wherever they’re used, be it Libya, Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan.

Fine, Libya’s case was for the greater good but that’s the only example where anything remotely good has come out of the bloodshed. If the War on Terror is being fought to protect the citizens of USA, what of the citizens of other countries who have to pay the price?” asserts Nehel Bundukda of Karachi Grammar School.

Drone attacks may or may not be immoral, illegal or wanton. But they’re definitely stupid… Buzz. Buzz. Sigh.

The Author

I have an avid interest in international politics, disparate global perspectives, human social and economic evolution, cultural diversity and how all these ideas tie together with Pakistan's current scenario. I believe in a secular, culturally integrated and stable Pakistan, and I hope to work towards the materialization of this dream.

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