Ben Emmerson: Drone strikes in Pakistan carried out without Pakistani consent

We have received the first bit of news from UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson since he first announced his investigation of 25 specific drone strikes. Emmerson just returned from a three-day visit to Islamabad, Pakistan, where he was given assurances that there is no “tacit consent by Pakistan to the use of drones on its territory.” The Guardian reports

His comments on Friday are a direct response to widespread suspicions that some parts of Pakistan’s military or intelligence organisations have been providing clandestine authorisation to Washington for attacks by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on Taliban or al-Qaida suspects in provinces on the Afghan border.

Emmerson said he had been told that “a thorough search of Pakistani government records had revealed no indication of such consent having been given”.

Firstly, there are not only suspicions that some parts of Pakistan’s military or intelligence apparatuses are giving secret authorization to US for drone strikes. It has been confirmed by at least one Wikileak cable, in which Pakistani General and Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani asked US Admiral William J. Fallon (formerly Commander at USCENTCOM) for “continuous Predator [drone] coverage” of a “conflict area” in Waziristan. If anyone with internet connection can find this cable, why can’t the Pakistani officials who told Emmerson about the search find it in their internal records?

Secondly, Emmerson’s statement reports that “since mid-2010 (and to date) [Pakistan’s foreign affairs ministry] has regularly sent ‘notes verbales’ to the US embassy in Islamabad protesting the use of drones on the territory of Pakistan.” That implies a six-year lapse between the first US drone strike to take place in Pakistan (June 2004) and the foreign affairs ministry in Pakistan deciding to protest such actions to the US embassy there. What are the implications of this six-year period of silence, and does that silence not hint at some sort of tacit authorization?

Emmerson is also not the first person to make the claim that the Pakistani government does not consent to the CIA drone strike program in the former’s territory. As I wrote about here just a month ago

… Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani ambassador to Washington, declared the CIA drone program in Pakistan a “red line,” insisting that “Pakistan does not privately okay drone strikes inside Pakistan.” Rehman was quoted as saying “I can assure you there is no quiet complicity in this, there is no question of a wink and a nod…”

Rehman noted that as of the declaration, the members of army and the civilian government were “all on the same page” with regards to their attitude towards US drone strikes in Pakistan. Is that hinting at some sort of divergence in their respective opinions prior to that moment, as indicated in the cable quoted above?

Emmerson’s statement condemns the US drone strikes in Pakistan as being a violation of their national sovereignty, given that the latter has not consented to such actions, and thus the US is in violation of the UN Charter. Even if we were to narrow the scope of discussion to the Obama administration alone, it is unclear whether or not an argument rooted in the legal framework of international law is enough to sway the US to reconsider its actions. The twisted logic of the whole program, as represented in documents like the Department of Justice White Paper that was leaked to NBC News several weeks ago, doesn’t seem to evince much regard for international law on a whole. The many perversions which are required to make the Obama administration’s actions seem justifiable within the context of international law aren’t necessarily a sign that the administration values international law and wants to seem to conform to it – rather, the highly-flawed arguments presented by the Obama administration seem more a way for it to justify its actions to Americans, who might otherwise find ways to poke holes in those arguments through the many avenues provided by commentators such as myself.

However, given that the drone strike program is justified on the basis of necessity – i.e. we need to take out these would-be terrorists to prevent a threat against the “homeland” – Emmerson’s statement offers one unambiguous and incredibly logical reason for ending the US drone strike program (not just in Pakistan, but all over the Middle East): “Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.

Furthermore, individuals who may have simply posed a threat to the Pakistani state before may now be incensed to take up arms against the US given it’s responsibility for decimating whole Pashtun communities, and maiming and murdering scores of people. As I have discussed here and here, it is absolute insanity for the US government and its electorate to ignore the fact that bombing and killing people abroad is going to engender more hostility towards the US – and quite possibly, convince more people to take up arms against the imperial aggressor.



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