Steps Pakistan can take to stop drone strikes

Published: July 24, 2013
The writer was Pakistan’s Representative to the United Nations from 2008 to 2012

The writer was Pakistan’s Representative to the United Nations from 2008 to 2012

Since times immemorial targeted killing has played a dominant role in shaping world history and destiny and while the legends of men and societies’ nomenclature hastily transferred from assassins to freedom fighters to founding fathers, the only change that the march of civilisation impressed upon the methodology was, ‘how to kill more effectively’. From a stone, to a club, to poison, to a blade, to a bullet then a bomb and now drones, the insatiable drive towards achieving objectives through targeted killing and by shedding human blood remains unabated.

Targeted killings have prompted the civilised world to refine the post-World War policy of  “hot pursuit” to permit the unabashed violation of the sovereign domain of other states through a policy of  “legitimate response to terrorism and asymmetric warfare” and in their justifications have undermined the immense post-Second World War process of laws and legalities that were put in place to ensure that the debacle arising from political word mongering and diplomatic doublespeak does not encourage war to rear its ugly head evermore. The net resultant of the justifications from their exercise is the effect of neutering and unfortunately ensuring “the blurring and expanding the boundaries of the applicable legal frameworks” (from Philip Alston in his Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, 2010) that were laid meticulously over many decades in the form of the UN Charter, the Laws of Armed Conflict,the Convention of Human Rights,the ICJ and the Geneva Convention amongst many others.

As Pakistan bears the brunt of targeted killings through drone strikes by foreign powers even as it publicly denounces the drone campaign upon its sovereign territory and integrity, public rumours abate of tacit understandings and the Wall Street Journal states as flimsy rationale the plea that “the US government interprets the Pakistani lack of response to a monthly memo informing them of the general locations of the planned drone strikes as tacit consent for the programme”.

This raises several legal questions, none framed better than by the highly respected Philip Alston, who is also Professor of Law and Director of the Center of Human Rights and Global Justice at the prestigious New York University and Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Alston raised before the UN, the “legality of targeted killings under the laws of war, international human rights law, and the law applicable when States invoke their right to Self-Defence; the definition and scope of armed conflicts in which the laws of war apply; the definition of who may be targeted and killed, when, and by whom, in the context of armed conflict, the rules which govern the amount of force that may be used, the legality of drone killing in particular and the International law requirements of transparency and accountability”.

These then are the issues which must be pursued to logical conclusion if Pakistan desires to move to put to an end, our muted quandary and self-inflicted predicament. But world authorities do not cagily expound their obvious beliefs, they bellow from the closest lectern. Reproduced below are two such stalwarts, retorting upon claims of legitimacy by drone users intruding beyond the pale.

In 2011, the Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns reporting to the General Assembly stated “the current use of drones where there is not a recognised ‘armed conflict’, to kill an opponent, such as in Pakistan or Yemen, is highly problematic. While such operations may be designed to hit a particular target, civilian casualties remain, and it is used on such a large scale that it can hardly be described as targeted”.

In 2013 the Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Commission, Ben Emerson, stated “the US’s ongoing drone campaign in Pakistan is a violation of the South Asian nation’s sovereignty, as it is being conducted without the consent of its elected representatives or that of the legitimate government”.

It is now self evident upon reading Alston, Heyns and Emerson that the CIA-led drone campaign may be unequivocally in violation of International law but it must also be recorded that the fabric of US nationhood prides itself in primarily upholding the rule of law. Picking up the thread, Alston warns that “the fact such enemies do not play by the rules does not mean that a government can cast those rules aside or UNILATERALLY reinterpret them. The credibility of any Government’s claim that it is fighting to uphold the rule of law depends on its willingness to disclose how it interprets and applies the law — and the actions it takes when the law is broken” as the US did in the case of a drone strike in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, and has sadly not deigned to do so in Pakistan. This leads Alston towards the unfortunate cynical reality in this region that “Intelligence agencies, which by definition are determined to remain unaccountable except to their own paymasters, have no place in running programmes that kill people in other countries”.

Today over 40 countries of the world are honing their drone capabilities many with missile-firing capacity, the ensuing flouted rules being passively accepted today shall in future be taken as granted as norms of behaviour. This, in turn, shall create precedents for the world tomorrow based on assertions of ever-expanding entitlements to targets around the world with an ill-defined licence to kill without accountability and scoring damage upon the carefully crafted rules designed to protect the ‘right to life’ and to prevent’ extrajudicial killings’.

Will Pakistan acquire the will to raise their undermined national rights and standing in the international community and understand that mere domestic grandstanding does not necessarily provide International understanding and recognition of issues and imperatives and that if practical results are desired, the right approach at several levels needs to be initiated. Simply put, recognise that only the voice of one Pakistan must emanate, and that the required relief be clearly defined after due deliberation and understanding of issues and must resonate through application of International Law. Then, the matter be pursued with relentless practicality through a chessmaster precision of a single entity, preferably of cabinet rank with the consensus of the cabinet, reporting only to the prime minister directly. There must be no named respondent, the law and its violations must be the consideration and our cause of action, drone attacks. The following tracks may be considered for approaching the venue for debate and rulings.

As a member of the board, Pakistan can then approach the Human Rights Council in Geneva and initiate a comprehensive debate on the international legal status of International drone attacks in areas not in armed conflict where no permission of the sovereign state has been obtained and its territorial integrity violated, and where innocent lives have been lost, without accountability. The resulting deliberation and preferably a substantial resolution should be sent to the ICJ (International Court of Justice) and the UN Security Council for further deliberations and settlement of the matter for posterity.

Pakistan can also move the ICJ independently or co-jointly through the human rights council to deliberate and review the question of the legitimacy of drone attacks violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of an independent nation state under existing International laws.

As a member of the Security Council, Pakistan can move the Council to deliberate in open session and debate the question of legitimacy of drones being used in areas not in armed conflict in locations situated in third countries without sovereign sanction and if the perpetrators cite that the above-stated criteria are in compliance, force the lack of compliance upon accountability and the lack of aftermath reportage by the said states using drones, thereby initiating a process of accountability to be submitted for clearance before the Security Council on a regular basis. More substantially, it can move for strictures on violation of Article 51 of the UN Charter to consolidate interest in the above points and use it to obtain a detailed acceptable international settlement upon these outstanding issues. Even if any Permanent member of the UN vetoes any resolution, a fair evaluation shall emerge for the record and the resultant debate content may be used substantially as cause and grounds before the ICJ.

Targeted killings are a rapidly growing challenge to the International rule of law, and are increasingly used in circumstances which violate the relevant rules of International law. The International community needs to be more forceful in demanding accountability.

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

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Reader Comments (37)

  • Jul 24, 2013 - 11:51PM

    Drones will always be there no matter what steps Pakistan takes in future. It will only hurt Pakistan if America stops this drone strategic warfare in future since it has been mostly been productive.

    It’s about time Pakistan wakes up to the strategic advantages of drone strikes and identify its role in curtailing terrorism instead of choosing to selectively criticize them whenever “Good Taliban” are targeted- who continue to send fighters in Afghanistan to fight Nato troops such as Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Maulvi Nazir and Haqqani Network.

    Pakistan, being a vital non-Nato ally, must treat all Taliban as one, while allowing these strikes unabated, and stop decrying sovereignty issues because sovereignty, if Pakistan still has one, is foremost being violated by Taliban and Al Qaeda.


  • numbersnumbers
    Jul 24, 2013 - 11:55PM

    OR Pakistan could send in the Army to extend the writ of the state into the FATA region and eliminate those “Safe Havens” where the beloved “Good Taliban” openly operate from (and rule)!!
    Then there would be no need for Drone Strikes!!!
    Pleading “Sovereignty” where none exists will get you nothing.


  • obvious
    Jul 25, 2013 - 12:25AM

    Always admired the articulate approach of yours, Abdullah Haroon saheb..
    Pakistan needs a good response to illegal, immoral drone strikes in its territory. Alas these puppets/idiots/morons/rats in government just wont do it.Recommend

  • C. Nandkishore
    Jul 25, 2013 - 12:41AM

    Drones are being used by America precisely because Pakistan wants it. Pakistan army / government / judiciary / people are by themselves afraid to go alone against the terrorists. Even though 5000 armymen and 40000 civilians have been killed.


  • unbelievable
    Jul 25, 2013 - 12:54AM

    I suppose the American’s and much of the World might question why the Waziristan’s aren’t considered area’s in “armed conflict” or whether Pakistan has actual sovereignty over these area’s. No doubt the American’s will ask whether a country can provide sanctuary to terrorist and expect the recipients of that terrorism to sit back and do nothing. They might even argue that providing sanctuary is tantamount to an act of war.
    I suspect Pakistan has figured out that taking this issue to the Security Council has more downside than upside – the American’s are going to continue drones regardless and Pakistan might end up being sanctioned for facilitating terrorism.


  • truthbetold
    Jul 25, 2013 - 12:59AM

    Lot of empty gas and digression without addressing the basic issue. The one and only way for Pakistan to stop drone attacks is to deny sanctuary and succor to international terrorists. How come the author completely sweeps this basic truth while indulging in beating around the bush?


  • shahid
    Jul 25, 2013 - 1:02AM
    Exclusive: Leaked Pakistani report confirms high civilian death toll in CIA drone strikes

    July 22nd, 2013 | by Chris Woods


  • aneel
    Jul 25, 2013 - 1:35AM

    The whole premise of your article ,Sir lies in the fact that the drones are being used without the complicity of the Pak govt.As Im sure you are aware that the Pak govt/Army is clandestinely in cohorts with the US as far as the Drone policy goes


  • T.Arain
    Jul 25, 2013 - 3:47AM

    Pakistan can stop drone strikes by getting the army to take out all the terrorists themselves.


  • csmann
    Jul 25, 2013 - 4:48AM

    Drone attacks may be illegal,but Taliban is also infringing on the sovereignty of Pakistan,does indiscriminate killing of its citizens(not targeted,but random),and is in a covert war with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unless those laws are also applied to them, drones will,unfortunately, continue.


  • Sandip
    Jul 25, 2013 - 5:09AM

    Haroon Sahab, sure you can push for security council debate on drone strikes. And I am sure US and others will be more than happy to accommodate your request. However please also be prepared with response when tapes containing proofs of your state institutions’ use of terrorists as state policy instruments are paraded to the world. If you think that the noise makers in GHQ and Aabpara, or for that matter inside Pakistani Foreign Office are sitting quietly for no reason, you are sadly mistaken. They fully know the skeletons inside their own closets. Countries that don’t respect the rights of others to live, find their own rights disregarded as well.
    In any case, there is a very simple way to stop the drone strikes. Remove the terrorist sanctuaries that have been allowed to flourish inside Pakistan or in Pakistan controlled territory. The world will immediately start taking notice. If not, be prepared for the ambit of these strikes to expand to the rest of Pakistan, once the draw down completes in 2014. The choice is completely yours.


  • Ali
    Jul 25, 2013 - 6:19AM

    The best way to get the drones strikes stopped and other future methods of targeted killing for Pakistan is to immediately cease the hate mentality against other communities, resolve to live at peace with the world, accept the diversity in the world, stop looking at the world through religious glasses and start looking at the world through humanity and let live philosophy.
    Pakistan will become strong internally and no one would dare conduct any sort of conflict with you. Be a progressive member of the civilized world.


  • Concerned
    Jul 25, 2013 - 6:39AM

    Given that Pakistan provides safe havens to those attaching neighboring countries it seems the outrage over violations of sovereignty only apply in one direction. Pakistan will get little real sympathy or support from the international community until you show your self to show respect for your neighbors and stop attacks from your territory. Not being able to do this is an admission that you have no control over portions of your own country and have no sovereignty over those areas.


  • Deepwater
    Jul 25, 2013 - 6:42AM

    How naive!!! The drones are being used, in large part, in full collusion with the Pakistani establishment. Your military and civilian leaders are experts in speaking from both sides of their mouth – the international community knows that well and is putting that double-faced ability to good use.


  • RAW is WAR
    Jul 25, 2013 - 7:19AM

    how about bomb shelters?


  • Iron hand
    Jul 25, 2013 - 8:13AM

    You must exercise sovereignty in order to claim its violation. As long as Pakistan cedes its territory to terrorists, such as Zawahiri, who remains based in Pakistan without any apparent worry of being apprehended by local authorities, the drone war will continue.


  • mahmood
    Jul 25, 2013 - 9:52AM

    Are you calling our military high command “puppets/idiots/morons/rats”? Are they not the self-appointed masters of our security policy and negotiations with the U.S. – at least since 1977, if not earlier? Civilians became irrelevant on these two fronts many decades ago, in case you were asleep in a cave.


  • ezanius
    Jul 25, 2013 - 10:55AM

    @Anas Abbas: You might be looking at one aspect of the problem. We all know we are facing these challenges, but I think the author has quoted one good point “The credibility of any Government’s claim that it is fighting to uphold the rule of law depends on its willingness to disclose how it interprets and applies the law “ I think the problem here with drone attacks is much bigger than the slogan of sovereignty. We are being divided within, and in the long run the whole population would be questioning our collective identity. Killing one terrorist is not the end of terrorism, it’s the way you handle that terrorist so that it could speak for your justice. We don’t live in Roman era where you just silence the rebel, put the matter under carpet, and move on, NO!.The hypocrisy of our politicians adds to it and you cannot rule a whole control merely through secret agencies…


  • Imtiaz
    Jul 25, 2013 - 11:35AM

    Sir, Abdullah Haroon Sahib, I respect you a lot with my core of heart..

    But let me know one thing,




  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Jul 25, 2013 - 12:38PM

    Abdullah Hussain Haroon is acting Naive through this article,
    Steps pakistan can take to stop drone strikes as above ….does not include steps pakistan can take to enforce Sovereignty.
    Steps pakistan can take to stop drone strikes as above just gives ideas which are sure to fail if tried.
    Steps pakistan can take to stop drone strikes as above does not include the core issue how will u stop violence(not mentioning words like terrorists/jihadis/etc here for ur better understanding).

    you are perfect UN ambassdor,
    an ambassdor should go round and round the issue and never give clear picture of his country to his hosts.


  • wondering
    Jul 25, 2013 - 12:55PM

    Why people get all the wisdom when they are not in authority?


  • adnan
    Jul 25, 2013 - 1:03PM

    @Anas Abbas:
    Hopefully you have considered the imaginary fact of a family member being effected in collateral damage. You would not have commented had you considered.


  • Parvez
    Jul 25, 2013 - 1:14PM

    If the drone has nothing to shoot at it will automatically stop………but we keep producing targets ( why ? ) ……………..its dirty vicious cycle.


  • Feroz
    Jul 25, 2013 - 1:33PM

    Abdullah Haroon’s arguments are facetious to say the least, like a lady in a bikini they conceal more than they reveal. Indulging in complex legal jugglery to cause confusion without addressing the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan directed at not only neighbors but the larger International community, is very convenient. Drones are primarily being used in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan because the writ of the government does not prevail as it is too weak OR there is no will to confront the terrorists sheltered there, due to ideological affinity.
    If a murderer kills my neighbor, should I shelter him in my house and refuse to hand him over to law enforcement, even when they plead, coax and cajole ? Rights, obligations and responsibilities go hand in hand. When these are flouted with a do what you can attitude, unfortunate consequences like Drone attacks result. Drones have never been used to satiate some blood lust of a sadist but have clearly sent a message to terrorists and nations protecting them. Civilian casualties are talked about, anybody sheltering a terrorist, whether it is a family, woman or child becomes a combatant shielding a criminal and should be categorized as a criminal or terrorist whatever the case may be.
    How convenient to claim civilian casualties when first to reach and sanitize the place should be the job of Law enforcement, not the terror group whose cadre was targeted. Nobody in Pakistan has had the courage to ask why the Law enforcement machinery never reached the spot first, not just that but journalists were not allowed to investigate either — no desire whatsoever to unearth the truth or squash speculation. WHY ? WHY ? WHY ?


  • qzj00
    Jul 25, 2013 - 1:33PM

    An Ambassador to U.N can not do anything on his own. He/She HAS TO follow the Government’s line. And, the Government was not capable of doing anything that the Ambassador is suggesting due to the skeletons in it’s closet!

    Sir Haroon, however, does have a brain and now that he is not an Ambassador, he does have a right to express his personal thoughts . . . and that is what he is doing.


  • Agnostic
    Jul 25, 2013 - 1:56PM

    Pakistan’s official policy was enunciated confidentially but made public by Wikileaks: you go on “droning” and we’ll go on denouncing. This policy continues under the new leadership. There is a revised message to the Yanks though: give us breaks, if you don’t mind.


  • Arzoo
    Jul 25, 2013 - 2:20PM

    @qzj00: Very well stated.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Jul 25, 2013 - 5:47PM

    Come on sir u know how our brave GHQ peoples are in making decisions from 1947 to now……


  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Jul 25, 2013 - 7:57PM

    Drones are a must to defend your country against terrorism. There are no good Taliban or bad Taliban, they are a mash of the same bowl, some less bitter and other totally spicy. Rab rakha


  • Solomon2
    Jul 25, 2013 - 9:04PM

    “Targeted killings have prompted the civilised world to refine the post-World War policy of “hot pursuit” to permit the unabashed violation of the sovereign domain of other states through a policy of “legitimate response to terrorism and asymmetric warfare” and in their justifications have undermined the immense post-Second World War process of laws and legalities that were put in place to ensure that the debacle arising from political word mongering and diplomatic doublespeak does not encourage war to rear its ugly head evermore. “

    Such a mouthful! I presume this is an angry reference to post-9/11 U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373, which advocates the elimination of terror sanctuaries, terror-training camps, and terror financing and invokes the rarely used Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to make doing so a sovereign duty and obligation of U.N. member-states. No battle against terror on your territory => no claims of sovereignty when others battle terrorists on your territory.

    Philip Alston refers to 1373 specifically in his report, adding “that it will only be in very rare circumstances that a non-state actor whose activities do not engage the responsibility of any State will be able to conduct the kind of armed attack that would give rise to the right to use extraterritorial force.” Well, that “very rare circumstance” exists in Pakistan. You can debate whether or not Security Council approval “should be sought” to strike back as Mr. Alston suggests but of course nothing in the U.N. Charter prevents member-states from engaging in armed attacks in self-defence against declared enemies. Rather, non-state actor terrorism is a loophole not covered in the Charter but falls under customary international law, like that against the pirates of old.

    The way forward for Pakistan has always been clear: to contest with its own demons and eliminate the terror sanctuaries and pro-terror mindset all on its own, without reservation or exception. There won’t be any drone attacks in that case because then they won’t be necessary.


  • Insaan
    Jul 26, 2013 - 6:45AM

    How much money Pakistanis have made from these drone bombings?

    According to Musharaf over 300 al quieda Muslims were handed over to CIA without any trial in exchange for millions of dollars.


  • Murtaza
    Jul 26, 2013 - 8:26AM

    The UN , if was to help any nation in need, would have stepped up to the plate a long time ago rather than contributing to the long list of wars since WW2. That being said , people need to understand that the one and only way and i know it sounds sad and really humiliating but its true.

    We need to influence public opinion in America. the Vietnam war stopped due to mounting pressure in america on its government. America stopped supporting apartheid affectingly causing its demise when americans decided that this is wrong.

    We have to wake up to the issues. you aren’t against someone trying to kill bad people in the mountains or teach us a lesson. we all are against capitalism and money.

    Simple fact: Drones will continue to be used as a military option because it is one with minimal risk and maximum damage. it also has shifted american military policy. instead of catching “terrorists” and then trying them and having PR nightmares like Abu Gharaib and Guatanamo, its better to kill them.its quieter and less gory. thats whats gonna happen anyway right. The largest fleet of drones was purchased 7,000 in total as part of the US AFRICOM plans. the base is in Djibouti and on the reasons Obama conducted his recent africa trip.


  • Bewildered
    Jul 26, 2013 - 7:57PM

    @All Indian Trolls:

    RAW in the region, and CIA globally, are the two biggest terrorist networks working under the patronage/protection of their respective governments. Without abolishing these two organizations, terrorism cannot be eliminated from the world. Therefore, the right targets for the drones should be their headquarters at Langley in Virginia and Lodhi Road in New Delhi.


  • csmann
    Jul 26, 2013 - 8:40PM

    Fortunately Drones are aware where the terrorists are and where they are hidden


  • jerseybb
    Jul 26, 2013 - 11:04PM

    Keeping the content aside, it felt like I was reading the vocabulary for GRE exam


  • numbersnumbers
    Jul 26, 2013 - 11:15PM

    WOW, so according to you, “the two biggest terrorist networks” were responsible for 9/11, 11/26, the London subway bombings, and the slaughter of some 30,000 Pakistanis plus over the last decade among other terrorist acts!!!! NOT!!!
    And here I thought the Easter Bunny was responsible!


  • sophie
    Jul 26, 2013 - 11:24PM

    cumo’n ICJ,Geneva ,SC … what are u talking about man .. these steps can be taken when these drone strikes are without the permission of that country.. Pakistan can only condemn these attacks verbally but would never take any pragmatic step.Ttalk about these reasons.. dont write about such things that this country cannot do


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