By Nasir Naveed
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone is an aircraft without a human pilot on board. Its flight is either controlled autonomously by computers in the vehicle, or under the remote control of a navigator, or pilot on the ground or in another vehicle. The United States government has made hundreds of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan since 2004 using drones, controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division. These attacks are part of the United States’ War on Terrorism campaign, seeking to defeat Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan. Most of these attacks are on targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan. These strikes have increased substantially under the Presidency of Barack Obama.
According to the Research conducted by Bureau of Investigative Journalism total reported number of drone attacks is 336. Ironically just 52 drone attacks were during the Bush Administration while rest 284 drone attacks were conducted during the Barack Obama regime. These ferocious drone attacks did not even spare children and around 175 children have become victims of these attacks. A study conducted by New America Foundation called 2010 “Year of Drone Attacks”, 114 drone attacks were there during 2010.
To the extent that the targets of drone attacks can be ascertained, under Bush, al Qaeda members accounted for 25% of all drone targets compared to 40% for Taliban targets. Under Obama, only 8% of targets were al Qaeda compared to just over 50% for Taliban targets. Deaths by drone attacks during the Obama Administration are around four times higher than during the Bush regime.
Top US officials consider these strikes very successful and believe that the senior al-Qaeda leadership has been ‘decimated’ by these strikes. United States defends these drone attacks on the pretext of self-defense. One of the former CIA official maintained that CIA uses a careful screening process in making decisions on which individuals to kill via drone strikes. He further urged that the process, carried out at the agency’s counter-terrorist center, involves up to 10 lawyers who write briefs justifying the targeting of specific individuals.
US military reports also asserted that al-Qaeda is being slowly but systematically routed because of these attacks, and that they have served to sow the seeds of uncertainty and discord among their ranks. They also claimed that the drone attacks have confused the Taliban, and have led them to turn against each other. According to a survey 83% Americans support drone attacks.
On the other hand Pakistan is against these drone attacks. It has repeatedly protested these attacks as they are an infringement of its sovereignty and because civilian deaths have also resulted, including women and children, which has further angered the Pakistani government and people.
In December 2010 the CIA’s Station Chief in Islamabad operating under the alias Jonathan Banks was hastily pulled from the country. Lawsuits filed by families of victims of drone strikes had named Banks as a defendant, he had been receiving death threats, and a Pakistani journalist whose brother and son died in a drone strike called for prosecuting Banks for murder.
In a joint resolution Parliament of Pakistan demand halt of drone strikes inside Pakistan but United States did not listen to the words of Pakistan’s Parliament. It was believed that after the restoration of NATO supply United States will stop drone attacks but during the month of August, 2012 there were around five drone attacks in Pakistan.
United States believes drone attacks as an effective tool in war against terrorism while Pakistan believes that these attacks are violating international law and sovereignty of Pakistan.
The Writer has done M.Phil in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from National Defense University Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be contacted at [email protected]