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New Pattern of Drone Attacks

us droneAccording to Conflict Monitoring Center’s monthly report on drone attacks United States has killed 37 people with missiles fired from unmanned drones inside Pakistan during the month of February 2012. The Central Intelligence Agency fired 9 Hell-Fire missiles in 4 drone attacks during the month. Since start of the current year the CIA has carried out 8 drone attacks inside Pakistan killing 56 people. All the drone attacks during 2012 have been carried out in North Waziristan. Among 37 dead in February, only five were known Taliban commanders while all others killed were unknown persons. Anonymous security officials have kept their routine of declaring all the dead as ‘militants’. No immediate independent source or method is available to ascertain the credibility of these claims however, in the past many of such claims have been proven false. It is observed that new wave of drone attack is less frequent with low number of casualties. Fallout of drone attacks against Pakistan is continued as the militants annoyed with Pakistan’s alliance with US in its war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban have also intensified suicide attacks and other militant activities after the resumption of drone attacks in January.

A strong correlation between drone attacks and suicide attacks continues to persist in 2012. Eight drone strikes and seven suicide attacks have been recorded in first two months of the year. 71 people were killed in 7 suicide attacks while 56 people were killed in 8 drone attacks. Total number of drone attacks and suicide attacks during US led war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban are almost same.

 An American news agency the Associated Press (AP) has tried to downplay civilian casualties in drone attacks to bailout CIA from public criticism. This report has raised critical questions on the credibility of the claims of the AP. The Conflict Monitoring Center observes that ambiguous role of Pakistani government regarding drone attacks is likely to continue as it has taken no concrete steps to stop these attacks. During February, a UK based legal charity ‘REPRIEVE’ has filed a complaint in United Nations Human Rights Council on behalf of relatives of Pakistani victims. The complaint demands that UNHRC declare drone attacks illegal in Pakistan. Relatives of victims of drone attacks and other tribesmen once again held a protest demonstration in front of Pakistani parliament against CIA’s lethal controversial campaign. Pakistani parliament has already condemned drone attacks and asked government to do whatever possible to stop the attacks parliaments call could not be materialized so far.

1.     New Pattern of Drone Attacks

The Conflict Monitoring Center has observed a new pattern of drone attacks in first two months of in 2012. After an attack by US helicopters on Pakistan Army’s border post which had killed more than two dozen Pakistani soldiers, Pakistan had forced US to vacate Shamsi Air base which was used for drone attacks. Subsequently, US had temporarily halted drone attacks in Pakistan. It is not clear whether the near-two month lull was due to technical reasons as the CIA was trying to relocate its drones and related systems and equipment from Shamsi base to Khost and Bagram Air fields or it was because of redefining ‘rules of engagement’ with Pakistan.  The CIA had resumed drone attacks on January 8, 2012 and since then it is observed that it has kept number of drone attacks at a certain level unlike 2010 and 2011. In 2010 number of drone attacks remained all time high when the CIA had carried out 132 such attacks killing 938 people. In that year drone attacks gradually increased. Average was 11 drone attacks per month. Until arrest of CIA’s killer agent Raymond Davis in February 2011, same pattern was followed. However, after the arrest of Raymond Davis, the year 2011 saw fluctuation in pattern. There were reports in the media that Pakistan has requested US that it should lower the number of drone attacks so that public backlash can be averted. It is not clear whether US has accepted Pakistan’s alleged request or it has decided for some other reasons that new wave of drone attacks is apparently seems less intensified in first two months of the year. January and February saw four drone attacks each.

Another aspect of the new pattern is the less number of person killed in these attacks. In eight attacks in first two months of the year only two time the number of killed exceeded to double digits. It can be an effort to minimize public criticism as significant deaths remain very low despite claims of precisions strikes.

2.     Significant Deaths

During the month of February 2012 majority of those killed remained the unknown persons as usual. Only five names out of 37 could surface in these attacks. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan‘s commander Badar Mansoor along with four other prominent commanders was killed in February 9 drone attack in Miran Shah area of North Waziristan. Other commanders included Qari Fayaz, Qari Mushtaq, Molvi Faisal Khurasani, Yasir Khurasani[i]. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates has named region of Pakistan and Afghanistan as Khurasan which was once a province of Islamic Khilafah. Hard line militants want to establish Khurasan Islamic state from where they can launch Jihad against west. Militants striving for Khurasan state use the term ‘Khurasani’ with their names.

In January 2012 however, the CIA was able to eliminate two high profile militant commanders in two different attacks. In an attack on January 10, 2012, Al-Qaeda’s operational chief in Pakistan Aslam Awan was killed while the head of the TTP Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed on January 12[ii]. His death was confirmed by TTP on February 8[iii]. After Baitullah Mehsud’s death in a drone attack on August 5, 2009, Hakeemullah’s death, if true would be most significant one for Pakistan. Pakistan is yet to officially confirm his death.

3.     Drone Attack’s fall out on Pakistan

Drone attacks by US have severe repercussions for Pakistan in the form of increased militancy, particularly suicide attacks. On February 24 militants carried out a suicide attacks on a police station in Peshawar killing four policemen. Militant group Abdullah Azzam Brigade has claimed responsibility for the attack. Spokesman Abu Zarar Said, speaking from an unknown location, said that the attack was a reaction to the killing of a top militant leader, Badar Mansoor, in a drone strike in Waziristan[iv]. A correlation between drone attacks and suicide attacks exists since long. This correlation between drone attacks and suicide attacks continues to persist in 2012. Eight drone strikes and seven suicide attacks have been recorded in first two months of the year. 71 people were killed in 7 suicide attacks while 56 people were killed in 8 drone attacks.

 US had carried out 303 drone attacks from 2004 to 2011 while the militants had carried out almost same number of suicide attacks during the period. In 2011 when drone attacks were declined, number of suicide attacks was also dropped. When CIA halted drone attacks after US attack on Pakistani military post, a mum in suicide attacks was also observed. Drone attacks were resumed on January 10 and within few days militants carried out first suicide attack of the year. Pakistan’s alliance with US in its war on terror is costing the country dearly. The root cause of Islamic militancy in Pakistan lies in its alliance with US.

Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province while talking to media clearly condemned drone attacks and termed them counterproductive.  He was talking to the media after the above mentioned suicide attack in Peshawar. He said that his province was paying the price of drone attacks. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain also said the latest terrorist attacks in Peshawar were in reprisal for the US drone strikes in Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Addressing a news conference here on Friday after suicide attacks against a Peshawar police station, the minister regretted that Pakistan had already warned the US that drone strikes were detrimental to its interests. “The Taliban are currently negotiating with the US and therefore, they should take up the drone attack issue with the Americans instead of carrying out retaliatory strikes in Pakistan,” he said. “We are opposed to drone strikes and consider them an attack on our sovereignty,” [v]

4.     Pakistan’s ambiguous stance on drone

It seems that until Pakistan’s ambiguous stance on drone attacks is not made clear it will continue to suffer from consequences of drone attacks.  Pakistani government has publically condemned drone attacks but has done nothing to stop them despite parliament’s resolution which asks government to do everything to stop these attacks. Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on February 23, termed the continuing US drone attacks in Pakistan as unacceptable. Conveying his concern to a visiting US Congressional delegation over the continued strikes against militants and civilians in Pakistan, the premier said, “Unilateral action such as drone strikes is unacceptable and counterproductive,” urging that there was a need for deep discussion to overcome the negative atmosphere created by such strikes[vi].

Pakistani Prime Minister has given such statements time and again but neither has asked its Air Force to shoot down intruding drones which claims to have capability to do so, nor his government as raised the issue at any international forum including UN.

5.     Critical Analysis of Associated Press’s of ‘fewer civilians’ Deaths

American news agency Associated Press claimed in its report published during last week of February that it had conducted an ‘on the ground’ study of 10 drone attacks occurred during last 18 months and concluded that “American drone strikes inside Pakistan are killing far fewer civilians than many in the country are led to believe”[vii].  A critical but objective analysis of AP’s story shows many loopholes in its conclusions. During past 18 months CIA has carried out 163 drone attacks and killed 1221people. How a sample of 10 out 163 attacks can be considered credible for research? Any new study is required to mention already available research and either it should build-on the existent knowledge base or point out flaws in previous researches or studies. It is strange to see that AP has not mentioned the vigorous and professional work of Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK based news organization which, like Conflict Monitoring Center, records casualties by drone attacks. The Bureau has recently published its investigation which exposed CIA’s ruthlessness in attacking funeral prayers of drone victims. The Bureau has investigated almost every drone attack instead of taking a sample of ten attacks and then generalizing the findings. According to Bureau’s investigation, a maximum of 815 and minimum of 467 civilians have been killed by drone attacks including 178 children in 311 drone attack since 2004[viii]. Number of drone attacks recorded by The Bureau and CMC is same as CMC’s tally of drone attacks is also 311 but AP has mentioned only 280 drone attacks.

While ignoring the recent work by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, AP interestingly used an old study by New America Foundation to support its hypothesis.  However due to its enormous subscription around the world especially in US, AP remains successful in improving the tarnished image of the CIA. Nonetheless, there still remain serious questions on AP’s claims. The story is written by its Islamabad bureau chief Sebastian Abbot but the ‘on the ground’ study looks the work of its Pakistani reporter Pir Zubair Shah who actually hails from Waziristan and has his relatives and other contacts in the area. But it is a matter of fact that he has not visited Waziristan since June 2007. He himself says “I made my last visit to Waziristan in June 2007. By then, people there knew I worked for an American newspaper; fearing for my safety, my family discouraged me from going. The military was turning away representatives of foreign news organizations, and the Taliban had grown increasingly paranoid”[ix]. Although he had covered initial drone attacks but due to security reasons, like other journalists, he too is unable to visit ‘on the ground’.  Moreover, Pir Zubair admits that he brought his sources from Waziristan to a guest house in Peshawar to investigate the drone war. How much credible a story can be when it was ‘investigated’ in a Peshawar hotel? AP has an international stature but sometime it sacrifices its credibility over ‘national interests’ of United States. While reporting about CIA, the news agency cannot help with its biased and pro CIA attitude. In 2010 when CIA’s station chief in Islamabad Jonathan Banks was exposed and was forced to leave the country due to security reasons, AP refrained from mentioning his names anywhere in its reporting. His name was mentioned in UK, Pakistan and other countries but AP had tried to put blanket on his identity. Similarly it tried its best to prove Raymond Davis a diplomat who was later exposed by British media. (Pakistani media was claiming from the very first day that he was a CIA agent but in the West it was taken as ‘propaganda’ and American Phobia).

The Conflict Monitoring Center’s own findings show that civilian casualties are deliberately overlooked by security officials to avert public protest.

6.     Complaint against US in United Nations

On February 23, 2012, relatives of children killed and injured by CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have filed a complaint against the USA with the United Nations. Legal action charity Reprieve, acting on behalf of more than a dozen Pakistani families who have lost loved ones in drone strikes, is asking the UN’s Human Rights Council to condemn the attacks as illegal human rights violations. The families, who between them have lost children, siblings and parents to the CIA’s covert program, say that the strikes violate their rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a treaty which has been signed and ratified by the US. Amongst the victims whose families are taking action are:

 •Maezol Khan, whose eight-year-old son was killed when a missile fragment flew into the courtyard where he was sleeping

•Fahim Qureshi, an eighth-grade student who lost his eyesight and hearing in one ear in a strike which also killed one of his classmates and a number of his relatives

•Noor Khan, who is planning to sue the UK for its involvement in a drone strike on a loya jirga – a peaceful townhall meeting – which killed his father

The complaint follows a demand by the Islamabad-based human rights organisation, Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), that the Pakistani government obtain a UN Security Council resolution to end the drone strikes, which have killed hundreds of civilians in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (FATA)[x].

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