Pakistan Says U.S. Drone Strikes Violate Its Sovereignty

Feb 7, 2013
Originally published on February 7, 2013 5:28 pm
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We turn now to a primary target of U.S. drone strikes: Pakistan. Yesterday, missiles struck a compound in North Waziristan near the border with Afghanistan, killing three people. The strike occurred shortly after Pakistan's ambassador in Washington condemned the use of drones as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and international law.

Throughout Pakistan, popular reaction to U.S. drone strikes isn't just negative. It is vociferously negative. NPR's Jackie Northam joins us now from Islamabad. And, Jackie, what's been the reaction to this latest drone attack in North Waziristan?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, the English and Urdu press are certainly covering this latest strike. But, Robert, compared to other drone attacks, this one is quite small and, from all accounts, really, where no major players killed.

Drone strikes have become quite common here in Pakistan. There has been hundreds of strikes over the past few years. This is the first one this month, but there were six in January alone, which killed more than 40 people. And then, you know, with each hit, there's just an increasing anger here in Pakistan. And it's something that crops up in every conversation that you have whether you're talking about Afghanistan or foreign policy or the problem with militancy here. Even the weather, I think, you could probably work it in. So it's here, it's present. This whole issue of drones works its way into every part of society, you know?

But it's in the press where you really see this playing out, the Urdu language papers in particular. You know, they describe the victims as martyrs, and there are just cries that drones violate Pakistan's sovereignty and international law. And as you said, this was something that was echoed by Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. She made similar comments just hours before this latest strike.

SIEGEL: Now, as we've heard, Washington is now engaged in a debate about the use of drones. Is that debate here? Is that being followed closely in Pakistan?

NORTHAM: Oh, it's certainly being covered by the media here, you know, but with both straight up news reports out of Washington and then certainly as that being used as a springboard for some really heated commentaries and editorials and, again, particularly amongst the Urdu-speaking press.

Many people are watching to see how this shakes out, you know, what sort of legal justification the U.S. has for its drone program and how that relates to Pakistan. But at the same time, whatever the outcome is and whatever we find out, it's expected that the strikes against the militants here, particularly in the tribal regions, will continue and maybe even at an accelerated pace because the U.S. and other Western countries are expected to pull out the bulk of their troops out of neighboring Afghanistan in 2014. And, you know, they want to clear these extremist safe havens in Pakistan.

And the other thing is Washington feels the drone strikes have been successful in curbing militants from crossing into Afghanistan to launch attacks. But, Robert, these attacks, these drones strikes are really very difficult for many Pakistanis to swallow, and they say the strikes are counterproductive and that just too many innocent people are being killed.

SIEGEL: But what actually can or might the Pakistani government do about the drone strikes?

NORTHAM: Well, that's a very difficult question to answer. First of all, publicly, Pakistani officials say that they're glad that the United Nations, a couple of weeks ago, said that it's going to launch an investigation into the use of drones here in Pakistan and elsewhere - Somalia and Afghanistan and Yemen among others - but it's also widely believed that the Pakistan government and its military have given their tacit approval for these drone strikes and in large part is because the strikes are taking out militants who are launching attacks against Pakistani targets. So it actually helps the government here. But this would never ever be said in public.

And the other thing, you know, Pakistani officials say privately that if given their druthers, they would prefer to carry out the strikes rather than have the U.S. do it, but that's unlikely to ever happen. So there's really not a lot they can do, but in some ways it benefits the Pakistani government.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jackie Northam speaking to us from Islamabad in Pakistan. Jackie, thank you.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.