Drones Fire Both Ways

  • by Zofeen Ebrahim (karachi)
  • Inter Press Service

But with the sudden step-up in drone attacks, defence experts in Pakistan fear an escalation in terror.

Raining down Hellfire missiles on suspected terrorists, these CIA-controlled pilotless machines have also killed large numbers of civilians, and stoked anti-American sentiment.

Since 2004, somewhere between 2,464 and 3,145 people have been killed in Pakistan, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Of these, up to 828 it says were civilians, including 175 children.

'Such attacks embarrass Pakistan’s military and civilian authorities but also accentuate anti-America sentiments in Pakistan,' Hasan Askari-Rizvi, Lahore-based defence analyst told IPS.

But in Pakistan too, not everyone condemns drones altogether. 'Yes, drones kill, but so do artillery, aircraft, and helicopter gunships,' peace activist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy told IPS. 'All weapons are bad but, by virtue of their precision technology, drones kill fewer innocents.'

In addition, said Hoodbhoy, with many 'jihadist leaders' killed, drones have 'prevented Taliban fighters from acting in concert.'

Hoodbhoy blames the pro-jihadi Pakistani media and not drones for producing more militants. 'Television has encouraged the country into feeling sharp pain when attacked from outside, but to remain indifferent when militants slaughter ordinary people, policemen, and soldiers.'

Rizvi believes the Pakistan government and the military have become victims of their own policy of 'playing up anti-Americanism to improve their bargaining power vis-a-vis the U.S.'

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, there have been 22 drone attacks since January this year, seven in May alone. Estimates of civilian casualties vary. A study by the New American Foundation concluded that at least 32 percent of those killed in 114 drone attacks it studied were civilians.

Mirza Shehzad Akbar, a human rights lawyer and director of Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), an organisation providing legal aid for victims and survivors of drone attacks told IPS that since May 23 more than 50 people have been killed in North and South Waziristan. He said this is a 'high number' when compared to previous attacks.

'The number of drones has increased as well. Our investigators in North Waziristan say in some recent attacks as many as ten drones have been used for a single attack,' said Akbar, also a fellow of the UK- based rights group Reprieve.

The FFR has filed a criminal case against CIA officials which he says is in its 'final stage' and over which he is optimistic the judgment will be in the foundation’s favour. 'It will mean that by drone attacks CIA officials are committing murder in Pakistan; that they can be tried by Pakistani courts and Pakistani authorities would need to move against CIA official through Interpol.'

Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences says drone attacks make for 'a good case for war crimes' because they amount to extra-judicial killings based often on faulty intelligence.

The U.S., he said, wants to show that it 'doesn’t care about Pakistan’s parliamentary resolution and national opposition.' He said the U.S. expects 'submission' from Pakistan and 'control over Pakistan’s security policy, internal security in particular.'

Rizvi said these coercive tactics are being used by the U.S. to pressure Pakistan to reopen the transit route for NATO goods to reach Afghanistan. The routes were closed by Pakistan over the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers last November in a U.S. attack. Pakistan had demanded an apology, which the U.S. has so far refused.

An eleventh-hour invitation sent to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to attend the NATO summit in Chicago May 20-21 was on the tacit understanding that Zardari would announce reopening of the NATO supply routes. When that did not happen, U.S. President Barrack Obama refused to meet him officially.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service