Controversial US drone strikes within Pakistani territory have long been a subject of debate, particularly on their legality or illegality under prevalent international law principles and resultant civilian casualties. Since 2004, when the first drone hit a target within Pakistan, these strikes have continued unabated despite the gradual increase of anger among Pakistanis, especially when reports of civilian casualties started pouring in. Although, international law does not stop any nation-state from requesting another state to help it militarily within its territories, it was the duplicity of successive regimes in Pakistan that made drone strikes a violation of sovereignty. While condemning drone strikes in public, they kept on giving a nod to the US in private. This policy enjoyed collaboration from allies in the media, who continued frightening us of US wrath in case drones are stopped by force.
The myth that Hell’s gates would be opened if we ever annoyed the US by stopping drones, needed to be broken to restore the citizens’ confidence in the state of Pakistan and affirm the validity of the principle of state sovereignty. Civilian casualties by drone attacks started echoing in courts and the Peshawar High Court (PHC) declared drone strikes a war crime and ordered the government to stop them. Stopping illegal drone attacks also emerged as a slogan of the election campaign of the PTI. After getting the mandate of the people, the PTI rightly decided to take this issue head on. This was the context in which the PTI’s blockade of Nato supplies started in K-P where it had formed the government.
Although blockade by party workers of the PTI and its allies was not in consonance with the right of free movement by citizens, this violation was nothing in comparison with the violation of state sovereignty by almost 381 drone strikes that have now been declared by the EU parliament to be extrajudicial killings.
When the recent PHC judgment rightly ordered that the right of free movement of citizens be ensured, the PTI’s Nato supplies blockade had already achieved its goals. Disrupted military supplies taught a good enough lesson to the US and served as a deterrent. Consequently, the US was forced to announce the limiting of drone strikes and we have seen a welcome halt in drone strikes for a significant period of time now. The PTI’s blockade also pushed the federal government towards tackling the issue of militancy by using its own force instead of relying on US drones. Finally, the blockade sensitised the European countries, which largely constitute the Nato forces deployed in Afghanistan, about the gravity of violations of international law and international human rights by US drone strikes in Pakistan. It was partly, if not solely, because of the mounted pressure on European countries whose soldiers suffered due to crucial supplies being stalled by PTI workers in K-P, that the European Parliament passed a resolution with a thumping majority terming drone strikes illegal and proposing a ban on their use.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2014.
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