Drones and exceptions

Published: January 24, 2013

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

The hoary cliché, ‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re out to get you,’ used by people to justify their outsized sense of self-importance and to further their delusions may just be applicable to Pakistan. We have often thought we loomed larger in other countries’ minds than we actually do. Now, we have reason to continue believing that. US President Barack Obama, trying to give legal cover to his dubious tactics in the ‘war on terror’, has recently been working in secret to codify what the president can and cannot do in catching and killing terrorists. These rules, according to an administration leak published in The Washington Post, came with one caveat: they do not apply to CIA operations in Pakistan.

Think for a minute about how staggering this is. The US is essentially saying that it cannot come up with a single justification for the legality of drone strikes in Pakistan. When taken to court over the issue, the Obama Administration argues that the courts cannot rule on the matter since national security binds them from even acknowledging the existence of these operations.

Now, in a subversion of legal and political norms, the president is post-facto legalising his actions but is doing so in secret and even within this extremely broad framework, he cannot provide legal cover to drone strikes in Pakistan and is instead arguing that they will continue just because he wants them to. This would be like me deciding to lose weight by cutting out all chocolate from my diet and then deciding that I can eat all the Maltesers my heart desires. The exception destroys the rule.

Those few Pakistanis who support drone attacks in the tribal areas will argue that there is no reason for us to worry about US legalese; that drones are the best way to kill the terrorists that we refuse to fight ourselves. For one, this argument does a great disservice to our military, which has actually committed to the fight against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, no matter what objections we may have to its tactics. Then, there is the fact that those who make this argument end up sounding a lot like those who say our government is so corrupt that we need a bunch of technocrats/military strongmen to come and clean up the mess. Whatever short-term progress is made through such stopgap measures is invariably undone in the long term. The same principle applies to drones. The death of a few hundred militants in drone strikes won’t compensate for the anger caused by the strikes themselves, the blatant lawlessness that accompanies them will become the new normal and the US will be even less concerned about civilian casualties in the future.

Recall that right now, the US classifies any man above the age of 18 who is killed in a drone strike as a militant, unless proven otherwise. These are the consequences of operating in secret, without any oversight and accountability. Those you murder become guilty until proven innocent.

It should be pointed out that the US, as the driver of the drone policy, is the most culpable in this matter but the Pakistani state is a front seat passenger which deserves some of the blame. Drones get support because they represent an easy way out. You get to kill a lot of people, many of them militants, without being shot at in return and you get to do it in secrecy without having to be answerable to anyone.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • sr
    Jan 24, 2013 - 10:54PM

    i think its – doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you – in the first sentence

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  • numbersnumbers
    Jan 24, 2013 - 11:17PM

    Once again, drone strikes only happen because Pakistan does nothing about the so-called “Good Taliban” that openly operate in the FATA regions of the country!
    Think about this for a moment, the “Good Taliban” are tolerated (supported?) by Pakistan because they ONLY attack and kill US/NATO/Afghan/Indian forces (and civilians)!
    Now the Americans fight back with drone strikes on these same beloved “Good Taliban” and Pakistan whines to the UN! Waaa Waaa Waaa!
    As for the Pakistani military fighting the TTP, the author conveniently neglects to mention that that same military refuses to take on the “Good Taliban” that America targets!

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  • Mirza
    Jan 24, 2013 - 11:46PM

    The writer is asking basic human rights questions regarding the US president. Only today the SC of Pakistan is informed that the ISI, MI and other agencies are holding over 700 detainees without any charges (let alone trial in a court) from FATA. Yet the writer has nerves to question the legality of US and CIA operations. It is not only the ISI is above the law here in Pakistan the same way CIA and its operation is secret and not disclosed. The difference is ISI and MI can detain thousands of Pakistanis in Pakistan without any legal repercussion but CIA cannot do that to any US citizen especially in the US.

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  • John B
    Jan 25, 2013 - 12:05AM

    All well and good and climbing the pulpit to preach sermon is the easy part. If PAK is concerned about militants Vs Drones then she has to capture the militants rather than providing them a safe haven.

    According to investigative reporting which in itself has no proof of authenticity other than press reports coming out of PAK, there are roughly 840 innocent deaths Vs 2200 militants. The question PAK should ask now is what were the 2000 militants doing there because it was they who invited death and destruction.

    The opinion on anti- drone campaign is akin to those people who denounced the Algerian military rather than the terrorists in the recent fiasco.

    War is no longer in clearly demarcated frontline as in Kargil or in olden days and the jihadists have brought them to the urban areas and it has to be fought if other people who live in Waziristan, Karachi, Mumbai, NY, Bali, London, or Madrid want peace.

    Drones are here to stay and about 60 countries have this capability. Whether it is legal under international law is a matter of semantics and no international law has ever prevented a terrorist and so the drone option must be kept open.

    How many soldiers did PAK lose in SWAT operations . Were they not innocent ?

    The noise from UK has initiated an UN inquiry as to the effectiveness of drone campaign in legal perspectives but i am sure UN will be using drones in the near future also. Recommend

  • Something Clever
    Jan 25, 2013 - 12:23AM

    Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter prohibits the use of force by one state against another. There are two exceptions – (1) when force is carried out with consent of the host state; (2) when the use of force is an act of self-defense in response to an armed attack or an imminent threat, and where the host state is unwilling or unable to take appropriate action.

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  • Arjun
    Jan 25, 2013 - 2:31AM

    The US is essentially saying that it cannot come up with a single justification for the legality of drone strikes in Pakistan.

    No..it means whatever rules they come up with for the drone strikes(aka the playbook), they don’t apply to strikes in Pakistan..

    Entire op-ed based on a false premise…

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  • American Desi
    Jan 25, 2013 - 2:43AM

    @Author: Even if a single innocent life lost is a life lost. That should be the wishful standards in society. Have you considered why there is a situation for carrying out drone strikes ? It is a known fact that there are terrorists holed up amongst civilians. Tactically it is more sane to send ground forces to take out those terrorists. US cannot have boots on grounds in these areas thanks to the stern warning from their “ally” in war on terror and Pakistani army for some non convincing reasons ( please convince me if I had missed any logic) do not want to launch operations in thee areas. So the choices are, either we let the region as is and let the militants let loose wishfully thinking ( as most Pakistani do) that they will never harm a Pakistani civilian, or we strike them hardest and fastest so that they are either completely eliminated or at the least weaken enough that they are no longer potent threat to lives of civilians.
    Mind it, these terrorists are more capable with much ease to strike in their familiar territories rather than flying 3000 plus miles and face the immigration procedure in US and most likely get deported or worse thrown to Guatnama Bay jail for life. So who is at loss ? Pakistani citizens. Who is suppose to provide solution ? Pakistani Governemnt and Army. Who is teh unfortunate nation to shoulder all responsibility and consequent blame for carrying out task with the second best option ???? USA.
    If your childrens are acting bad only you as a parent will have heart and mercy to fix them in a right and light handed manner. If someone else has to fix your kid they will be hard handed. Hope this simple analogy helps you understand your situation and the case of drone strikes.

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  • sabi
    Jan 25, 2013 - 4:33AM

    In every city town or village are roaming freely fatwa baz drones preaching hatred,abusing religion,threatning weaks killing on difference of faith matters,blackmailing democracy unleashing mayhem destroying public property pressurising politicians to give them share in power.And as a result brain drain,invester runing to other countries,foreign investment to zero,no tourist coming in,no cricket,no hockey,no thanks .no thanks to every invitation from Pakistan.
    And amidst that.milion man army with nukes,very powerfull independant judiciary,independant media and an army of so-called intelectuals is bussy seeing the whole tamasha like a tamasha,doing nothing,blaming world for hatching conspiracies.God help those who help themselves.This is your fire and if this fire endangers your neighbours then expect it that neighbour will not stay away and see tamasha along with you.If this land can not justifies its shamefull indifference to the menace to its own people it can for sure not satisfies outside world which is much more smarter to be decieved.Aye qaum tera Allah hafiz.

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  • Ahmad
    Jan 25, 2013 - 9:10AM

    An excellent and thought provoking article. Thank you Nadir for bringing out the legal and human aspect of these Drone attacks.

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  • Vikas
    Jan 25, 2013 - 10:06AM

    Pakistanis should be happy as they are getting preferential treatment, be it with the drones or at the airport. :-)

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  • stranger
    Jan 25, 2013 - 3:36PM

    A drone a day keeps terrorists away.

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  • Sexton Blake
    Jan 26, 2013 - 9:35PM

    Dear Nadir Hassan,

    Right on the button. Keep up the good work. What we badly need is for the real terrorists to get out of Afghanistan/Pakistan and go home to the West, so that Pakistan can solve its own problems without interference.

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  • zam
    Jan 27, 2013 - 8:58AM

    Well, I must assert that there are no such terrorists as the US claims; they are the same people whom the US used against Russia. At that time they were heroes and now with a change in American policy, the same have become terrorists.Even if this is assumed as true that they are terrorists, why on earth America is licensed to strike them with its ruthless drones. Does it do the same with the culprits in their own country or cities. Never, because even an American dog is worthier than the whole continent of Africa or Asia. Hundreds and thousands of civilians have died in these drones but for what, the damn god ambition of ruling the world. Just reminds me of

    Have I not reason to lament,
    what man has made of man.

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  • Sexton Blake
    Jan 27, 2013 - 5:27PM

    @zam:
    Dear Zam,
    Out of all the articles and contributions I have read you, in a few words, explained the true nature of American inspired terrorism, and how the US has turned on its own creation as a result of foreign policy change. If only a few more people were as incisive as you and could understand what their US/NATO/ZIONIST masters were up to, which basically is a ruthless plundering of world assets and world hegemony. Obviously, anybody who cannot be bought, and gets in their way, in order to protect their own country, automatically becomes a terrorist.

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  • Babur
    Feb 3, 2013 - 3:39AM

    If we could have saved ourselves from those foreign and domestic terrorists who are hiding in our border area with Afghanistan, there would not have been a need for drone attacks. Drones do not target our military rather the aforementioned terrorists who had escaped from Afghanistan following 9-11. Since their arrival, the security of our country is in free fall. In every drone attack, either one of their leaders gets killed or their foot soldiers. If we do not remove these extremists from Pakistan, someone else will, thus the drones.

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