Dimensions of the drone dilemma

By Air Cdr Khalid Iqbal (R)

While Pakistan is reviewing its new relationship with the United States; the latter has again started drone attacks on the former, which shows American double game with Pakistan. However, the use of drones raises some interesting questions: Are drones any less intrusive than sending troops in? Don’t they constitute cross border violations? And do these strikes violate international laws? A newer version is of small ‘suicide’ drones capable of launching from a small tube, loitering in the sky and then diving at a target upon command. Likewise, a suicide bomber is a man with ultimate motivation to reach its target, identify it with own eyes and destroy it without regard to self-destruct and collateral damage. In case of both types of attackers at the end of the day, there is no survivor who could be held responsible for the war crimes. Civilised nations have always maintained compatible judicial processes to try the war criminals. Suicide focused tools of warfare deny such mechanism. Largely, the human suicide bomber is a non-State actor; whereas, suicide drone acts on behalf of a State. Both kill their victim quietly, not caring whether the victim is combatant or innocent.

Hence, it would be difficult to differentiate between the effects of terrorism created by these two types of warriors. Daniel Pudles in his article, With its Deadly Drones, the US is Fighting a Coward’s War, recently published in The Guardian, reports: “The CIA, which is running the undeclared and unacknowledged drone war in Pakistan, insists that there have been no recent civilian casualties…….It is a blatant whitewash……. a report last year by the British Bureau of Investigative Journalism showed, of some 2,300 people killed by the drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 until August 2011, between 392 and 781 appear to have been civilians; 175 were children…….Feeling no obligation to apologise or explain, count bodies or answer for its crimes, it becomes a danger to humanity…….the brutality of war seldom escalates to its absolute form, partly because of the risk faced by one’s own forces. Without risk, there’s less restraint.” According to an AFP tally, 45 US drone strikes were reported in Pakistan’s tribal belt in 2009, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011. The New America Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, says the strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in the past eight years. President Barack Obama has confirmed for the first time that US drones have targeted militants on Pakistani soil. He said: “Many strikes were carried out on Al-Qaeda operatives in places where the capacities of that military in that country may not be able to get them…….For us to be able to get them in another way would involve, probably, a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we’re already engaging in.”

As War on Terror Drones has criticised CIA’s drone attacks inside Pakistan as “illegal” and “outside the law”. This piece is a revelation for those few Pakistanis, in politics and government, who secretly continue to support foreign attacks on their own soil, are incapable of asserting control over their territory. He said: “Drones are an attempt to violate international law.” He quotes a ‘conservative’ American estimate of 1,717 deaths in Pakistan by drones between 2004 and 2011, with a ‘conservative’ estimate of 32 percent civilian. The irony is that while resentment increases against the drones among Pakistani citizens and internationally, a handful of pro-US journalists in Pakistani media, politics and military circles continue to defend the attacks using the strange logic that foreign terrorists also violate our sovereignty. Drones are not made of a technology that would remain an exclusive domain of State actors; drone proliferation is around the corner. It requires far less infrastructure to operate drones than regular aircrafts. Eventually, non-State actors would acquire this capability to which States will not have an easy counter. Once other countries and non-State actors acquire this technology and unilaterally decide to target countries and entities that they feel are a threat to their security, then America would run for cobbling together something like a Comprehensive Drone Ban Treaty.

The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.


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