The United States drone strikes in Pakistan are a violation of that nation’s sovereignty, the head of a U.N. team investigating the legality of the U.S. drone program said, after he made a secret fact-finding trip to Pakistan and met with officials there.
Back in January, Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, held a news conference in London to announce his inquiry into the impact on civilians of the targeted killing program, as well as the legal underpinnings.
That investigation took him to Pakistan, where he said his findings were clear after meetings with officials.
“The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear,” said Emmerson. “It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory, and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The drone campaign “involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” he said.
Emmerson also said the Pakistanis claim the drone strikes were radicalizing a new generation of militants, and said it was capable of fighting the war against Islamist extremism in the country by itself.
President Obama has stepped up covert CIA drone strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghan border since he took office in 2009.
According to some estimates, the CIA and the U.S. military have undertaken more than 300 drone strikes and killed about 2,500 people — many of them civilians. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 2004 and 2013, CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed as many as 3,461 people — up to 891 of them civilians.
While the Pakistanis publicly complain about the drones, the behind-the scenes machinations of state are a different matter. Pakistan has allowed the drones to take off from bases within the country for many years, and documents released by WikiLeaks in 2010 showed that senior Pakistani officials consented to the strikes in private to U.S. diplomats — while complaining about them in public.
Though the relationship between the two nations has soured, U.S. officials say they still have the consent of key Pakistani military officers and civilian politicians to continue the strikes.
But Emmerson sent out a statement to The Associated Press today saying the Pakistani government told him it has confirmed at least 400 civilian deaths by U.S. drones on its territory.
One of the people who helped Emmerson in Pakistan was Imtiaz Gul, an expert on Pakistani militancy who runs the Centre for Research and Security Studies. He said he gave the U.N. investigator case studies of 25 strikes that allegedly killed civilians.
“It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other states,” said Emmerson.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is getting reports that China may have surpassed the U.S. in drone technology and may have a fleet of drones that can “swarm” in attacking an American aircraft carrier, according to a new analysis of the country’s program.
In Iran, an Iranian jet fighter jet pursued an American surveillance drone over the Persian Gulf this week — but ended the chase after it was warned off by an American escort plane, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
The Iranian incident and the Chinese development of drones illustrates how the drone program, which at first seemed like a way of conducting military intelligence without risk, may now be on the verge of getting the U.S. into deeper conflicts with its enemies.