Saturday, May 14, 2011

US Drone Strikes Threaten Relationship with Pakistan

Pakistan plays a pivotal role in our war in Afghanistan. Most of the supplies and equipment used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan are shipped in from Pakistan's northwest border (along the Waziristan region and in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), and that same area is contested by Taliban insurgency. To secure it's supply routes and ensure the defeat of Taliban forces, the US employs unmanned drones to attack suspicious targets. These drone strikes are illegal, immoral and are alienating Pakistan from it's US ally.

The US has no legal standing to removing sovereignty from Pakistan- they pose no threat the the United States (even the Taliban in northern Waziristan pose no direct threat to the US). By launching attacks into Pakistan, the US is committing "a violation of our sovereignty," according to Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit. The UN Human Rights Council's special investigator Phil Aston stated "the Central Intelligence Agency is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws". Interior Minister Rehman Malik agreed, stating unambiguously that, "drone attacks are violating Pakistan's sovereignty". Pakistan's parliament voted just yesterday to disallow any drone attacks by the US: "Such drone attacks must be stopped forthwith, failing which the government will be constrained to consider taking necessary steps including withdrawal of (the) transit facility allowed to NATO". Contrast this democratically set mandate to the US' actual policy: US drone strikes are set to intensify in Pakistan, and just one day before the Parliamentary action US officials confirmed that the drone strikes will continue, even after bin Laden's death.

Apart from the illegality of the drone strikes, their inefficiency and inaccuracy are so abyssal that it renders them indefensible. The success rates of the drone strikes are an astoundingly low 2%- at $10.5 million per drone (with the next generation model slated to cost up to $15 million), such a low mission success rate can't be justified. The repeated failure of the strikes to kill the correct people isn't just incompetent and expensive, either- it results in innocent, civilian casualties. Almost one thousand Pakistani civilians were killed by drones in 2010 alone, and Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution places the ratio of combatants to civilians killed by the drone strikes as ten to one.

The effect that this has had on US/Pakistani relations is made clear by the actions of the Pakistani government, who are understandably concerned with this loss of Sovereignty and are responding with saber rattling by the head of the air force, Rao Qamar Suleman who stated that they "may shoot down US drones". Another (and perhaps more likely) outcome would be a shut down of the supply lines by Pakistan itself (a similar shutdown was threatened in 2008), undermining our military position in Afghanistan. Pakistan's President has repeatedly requested that we share intelligence and stop the drone attacks, and his requests have been ignored. US politicians publicly and directly contradict Pakistani officials about the drone program, and the US military feels comfortable pledging to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan only hours before an unapproved drone strike. It's not clear exactly how far each nation is willing to give, but with the US' steadfast advocation for these drone raids and the Pakistani population's overwhelming opposition to them, it's clear that the escalating tensions must eventually crescendo.

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