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Saturday Dec 2, 2023, Jumada-al-awwal 19, 1445 Hijri

GWOT - reining in the drones

17 June, 2013

By Imran Malik

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Stunned by the death and destruction wrought by US drones' onslaught, the Pakistanis have responded in a rather incoherent manner. A well thought out whole-of-the-nation approach has been most conspicuous by its absence. The Pakistanis have naively sought a solution to the drone imbroglio in isolation; not comprehending that it can only be resolved within a broader regional or global solution to the terrorism issue.

The Pakistanis have failed to understand that for the US the drones are the most cost-effective weapon system and the most significant leverage in the AfPak Region (APR). These will not be neutralised by feeble resolutions and meaningless rhetoric from the Pakistani government and leaders. The latent power of the drones will become even more significant during the negotiations and as the US/Nato/Isaf combine egresses and the ill fated Afghan campaign winds down to its programmed demise. The crux of the drones' imbroglio lies in their unregulated, unilateral and ruthless employment by the US. They are being used without any international oversight, thus their endemic misuse is neither acknowledged nor accepted. Only the collateral damage gets ceaselessly lamented.

The US has its own strategic compulsions and national interests under which it employs these drones. That has predictably led to serious violations of many internationally mandated thresholds, in particular, in the legal, social, humanitarian, human rights, territorial integrity and national sovereignty domains; regardless of moral and ethical considerations. An international regime to regulate and control the employment of this deadly technology worldwide is thus warranted. The UNSC could be the right forum to evolve one. This regime should have universal and mandatory application. It should lay down the parameters and guidelines under which armed drones could be used in international and domestic environments. Its precedence should be at par with those regimes that regulate or control the spread and use of missiles and WMDs.

A two-pronged regime may be considered. In the first instance, the UNSC must explore 'all' channels of negotiating a peaceful solution employing all leverages short of actual combat. Failing which, the employment of armed drones may be allowed under strict conditions mandated by this regime. Furthermore, a UNSC mandated committee must monitor all such operations and report back all violations or excesses. The contours of such a policy must touch upon some very sensitive parameters amongst others. First, is the "justness of the cause and the war"; unless this is established beyond reasonable doubt at the UNSC forum, the use of armed drones may be disallowed. Second, is the preservation of a "nation's territorial integrity and sovereignty."

Terrorists are likely to operate across international borders. In such cases, the concurrence of all the countries involved must be mandatory prior to the employment of drones. If feasible, joint operations may be considered. The operational environment in the APR is raising many complex issues. Pakistan's sovereignty is being repeatedly violated, innocent Pakistanis are being killed needlessly and the Afghan territory is being used by the US to attack targets in Pakistan. Such blatant and unilateral trampling of national sovereignties, regardless of the desired end states, needs to be stopped. Third, is the dilemma to "declare war or not". A strange strategic conundrum is prevalent in the APR. The US/CIA is attacking Taliban hideouts across the Durand Line and killing innocent non-combatant Pakistanis in the process.

Either the US/CIA should declare war on Pakistan or it must get the latter's willing and unequivocal "public" approval and support for such operations. Deliberately ambiguous policies and duplicitous statements from both governments mean criminal connivance in these (mis)deeds. Fourth, is the issue of "proportionality of force" that is manifested in the APR and Pakistan as "collateral damage". A study at Stanford University concludes that only 2 percent of drone victims are high value targets; leaving a staggering 98 percent of them as collateral damage - innocent civilians or inconsequential supporters.

Media reports indicate that the CIA is also not sure of the identity of at least 25 percent of its drones' victims. If these ruthless actions of the US/CIA do not constitute acts of war against Pakistan and an excessive use of force, then pray what else does? There are very sensitive issues involved here like the justification of collateral damage and compensation thereof, the apportioning of blame on its perpetrators, operators and decision makers and the initiation of legal action against them. Justice must be done - on either side of the divide! Fifth, is the dire need to ensure that all these drone strikes are based on "verifiable and incontrovertible intelligence against confirmed terrorist leaders, operators and/or sites."

Innocent people are being killed on inaccurate, incomplete and possibly deliberately false intelligence. And finally, all those who violate this regime must be internationally censured, ostracised and brought under UN mandated sanctions.In the final analysis, when required, the UNSC may be mandated to pass a unanimous resolution to authorise the use of drones in a specific strategic environment in a clearly delineated region with time and space limitations. The countries concerned where the drones are to be used must be made a part of the decision and their voluntary concurrence must be mandatory. Once permitted by the UNSC and agreed to by the country or countries concerned, then the armed drones must only be employed under an "effects based strategy" ensuring no or the least amount of collateral damage.

Further, this technology is not likely to remain restricted to the US only. There are already reports that China may have evolved this technology. It would be prudent to assume that countries like UK, Russia, India, Israel, Pakistan, Iran and others would be making hectic efforts to acquire this technology. Were these countries to acquire and employ armed drones in their respective regions or areas of interests under the same governing rules as the US is doing in the APR, the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, then the Asia Pacific, South Asia and the Middle East too could see an even severe brutalisation of their regions in the near future. Therefore, it becomes imperative to rein in the drones now and subject their future employment to severe and effective international oversight.

Courtesy: The Nation

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