An important study, entitled Living under drones, undertaken jointly by the Stanford and New York universities, was released last Tuesday.

The study is based on interviews with witnesses, victims and experts. Some of its findings are:

      From June 2004 through mid-September 2012, drone strikes killed 2562-3325 people in Pakistan of whom 471-881 were civilians.

      This number includes 176 children.

      These strikes also injured an additional 1228-1362 individuals.

      The number of “high level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low - about 2 percent.

      The study accuses Washington of misrepresenting drone strikes, as a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer and that it produces zero-to-few civilian casualties.

      The US makes “efforts to shield the drone programme from democratic accountability.”

      The study accuses the CIA of “double-striking” a target, moments after the initial hit thereby killing first responders.

      Drones cause “harm beyond death and physical injury causing psychological trauma to the people, who hear drones hover 24 hours a day. People have to live with fear that a strike could come at any moment of the day or night, leaving behind the dead whose bodies are shattered to pieces.”

One may refer here to a statement of Mr Clive Stafford Smith, the Director of Reprieve, a London-based human rights organisation that was associated with this study in Pakistan. Says Mr Smith: “Drone strikes go much further than simply killing innocent civilians. An entire region is being terrorised by the constant threat of death from the skies. The way of life is collapsing. Kids are too terrified to go to schools; and adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, businesses meetings or anything that involves gathering in groups. Yet, there is no end in sight and nowhere the ordinary man, women and children can go to feel safe.”

The study recommends that Washington undertake measures to rectify collateral damage - including making public detailed legal justification for the strikes; implementing mechanisms transparently to account for civilian casualties; ensuring independent investigations into drone strike deaths; prosecuting cases of civilian casualties; and compensating the civilians harmed by the US in Pakistan. Nine months of research went into the study, according to its authors, included “two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses and experts; and review of thousands of pages of documentations and media reporting.”

And according to the New York Times, the strikes have alienated Pakistani public opinion and set a dangerous precedent under international law. That the targeted killings are legally questionable was earlier pointed out by two United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights, Ben Emerson and Philip Aston.

This study needs to be taken seriously by our government and the political opposition.

Another report published in the Wall Street Journal spells out the procedure in conducting drone strikes in Pakistan. According to the newspaper report, titled US unease over drone strikes, in the early days of the war, lists of specific individuals to be targeted on Pakistani soil were approved both by the US and Pakistan. About four years ago, the US started going on his own. Pakistan was sent a monthly fax indicating certain areas as “flight boxes”. Specific targets were not mentioned. The ISI would then acknowledge receipt by sending a return fax. It was a mere acknowledgment not an approval. It was, however, taken as tacit consent.

After the May 2 Abbottabad raid, the sending of acknowledgement of the fax was stopped. Silence on the part of Pakistan caused disturbance as without even tacit consent, the strikes had become legally questionable. Off and on the spokesman of our Foreign Office registers a protest; and recently a senior US Embassy official was called and told to convey to Washington, Pakistani government’s unhappiness at the drone strikes. Interestingly enough, the President in his speech at the UN did refer to drone strikes. But restricted himself to saying that “drone strikes and civilian casualties on our territory add to the complexity of our battle for the hearts and minds through this epic struggle.”

Also, one may reproduce here Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s remarks about the drone strikes uttered during his address at the New York Asia Society. It was a convoluted articulation. Said Hina: “The country (Pakistan) supports US aims in its secretive drone war over Pakistani territory, but not the methods which are backfiring. The CIA programme…....to fire missiles at militants…....is bitterly opposed by most citizens of the country.” She accepted the (US) government’s reasons for the onslaught, but called the strategy short-sighted by saying: “What the drones are trying to achieve…....We do not disagree. But we have to find ways which are lawful, which are legal…....The use of unilateral strikes on Pakistan territory is illegal. It is illegal and unlawful.”

What to make of these observations? Imran Khan, perhaps, may like to comments on these roundabout remarks!

In my last column, I had suggested that the opposition parties should focus on a specific major issue (one after the other) and mobilise public opinion to get the problem redressed. If they organise a movement collectively, the chances of succeeding in achieving their objectives should be quite substantial.

Why not take up the drones strikes? Not only is public opinion strongly in favour of stopping these attacks that directly violate the county’s sovereignty, there is also the standing unanimous parliamentary resolution that demands the halting of these strikes. Steps should also be taken to raise the issue internationally and if deemed right, at the United Nations.

How can we afford to continue to be humiliated and physically ravaged by a foreign power day after day?

The present government is weak and vulnerable and owes its very existence to the US-UK manoeuvrings. Only massive and persistent people’s pressure can make it see reason and change policy. We know through Wikileaks that they are complicit in the American violation of our space. It is time this preposterous illegal and unacceptable external intrusion is stopped.

Hopefully, Imran Khan will stick to his resolve to march to Waziristan in October and exert due pressure to bring about a change in our policy of kowtowing Uncle Sam at the expense of our people’s lives and welfare.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.

Email: pacade@brain.net.pk