*Scroll down for video interview with Shahzad Akbar, Pakistani lawyer who is suing the Pakistan government and previously sued the US government on behalf of drone victims.
In a move that further expands efforts to stop drone strikes in Pakistan and bring those responsible to justice, a legal charity in Islamabad called the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) sued the Pakistan government for failing to protect its own citizens from strikes by the United States. Two constitutional petitions were filed in Peshawar’s High Court. They were submitted on behalf of victims of a drone attack that occurred in North Waziristan and killed more than fifty people.
Lawyer and director of FFR, Shahzad Akbar, who recently attended and spoke at an international Drone Summit in Washington, DC, submitted the petitions and represents the victims. Akbar told the UK-based human rights group Reprieve, “The Pakistani government has failed people in [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] in giving them basic facilities for decades and now they are party to assassination by a foreign state. It is about time that our corrupt rulers stood up for their people, taking the matter before international forums to stop the CIA’s illegal attacks upon Pakistan.”
As stated in the petition filed on behalf of Noor Khan, on March 17, 2011, Khan’s father, Malik Daud Khan, head of the Tribal Jirga in NWA, was heading a Jirga [a tribal assembly] and
…Several Tribal elders were gathered to resolve a Chromite mine dispute among two sub tribes. The said dispute had been lingering for a while, was a threat to public peace and might have given rise to a long feud between tribes. At around 1100 hrs on that day the gathering of the Jirga was targeted in a clandestine manner by the CIA operated drones flying in Pakistan’s sovereign skies. Several missiles were fired killing 50 people. This incident was widely reported in the media.
People killed in the attack were participants in the Jirga. Tribal leaders condemned the “brutal extrajudicial killing of elders.” And, “all prominent political parties, Parliament and even the Pakistan Army Chief condemned the attack and the killings.” Then-Prime Minister Syed Yusef Raza Gilani also denounced the attack saying it would “only strengthen the hands of radical and extremist elements” and negatively affect “joint efforts to eliminate the menace of terrorism.” [The second petition names the victims and describes who they were.]
The petition brought on behalf of Noor Khan highlights diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks that show another side of Pakistani leaders that Pakistanis don’t always see. It emphasizes the “strong resentment” Pakistanis have toward US drones. It cites the recent “Guidelines for Revised Terms of Engagement with USA/NATO/ISAF and General Foreign Policy” that drone attacks must cease and declares since 2004:
…It has become a common practice in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) that drones hover in skies and launch missiles at whim. The Petitioner believes that the CIA acts on faulty intelligence gathered from locals in return for money, who use this opportunity to settle tribal animosities, falsely labelling people as Taliban or militants. The targeted killing of Petitioner’s innocent father and 49 other tribals is a blatant example of this.
The filed petitions assert at least 300 drone attacks have occurred in Pakistan and have extrajudicially and illegally killed “as many as 3000 people, including women, children, elderly, and handicapped.”
Both petitions indicate the suits are grounded in Article 9 of the Constitution in Pakistan, which guarantees due process to its citizens. A recent judgment by the Pakistani Supreme Court, Watan Party and Others v. Federation of Pakistan & others, found, “The State is duty bound to protect the life and property of its citizens in accordance with law against all the atrocities, target killings, homicide etc. The basic human rights of life, liberty and enjoyment of one’s property have been recognised nationally and internationally.’ Therefore, the drone victims should have legal standing to challenge the government’s failure to protect their family members.
The drone victims call on the Pakistan government to do whatever it takes to stop the drone strikes and protect the people and sovereign territory of Pakistan. They suggest the government sever diplomatic relations, expel the US ambassador to Islamabad, recall the Pakistan ambassador to Washington, call on the United Nations to send its Special Rapporteurs to investigate the situation and issue a legal opinion, report the US action to the UN Security Council or UN Human Rights Council, demand reparations from the US for the victims, initiate domestic or international criminal prosecutions or start shooting down drones that enter Pakistan air space.
The rationale and justification for shooting down a drone is made clear:
At a minimum, when a foreign state invades the sovereign airspace of Pakistan, the government must instruct the Pakistan military to put a stop to it. For example, it is a relatively simple matter to shoot down a Predator drone. It has a maximum speed of just 135 miles per hour, and can only fly up to 25,000 feet. A Spitfire used in the Battle of Britain in 1942 could shoot one down. Certainly the Pakistan military has the capacity to do this, either with a fighter jet, or a surface-to-air missile. The Predator drone has no ability to protect itself from such an action, so it may be done by the Pakistan military with virtually no danger to its personnel.
The Pakistan government could – and must – issue an ultimatum to the United States that any such invasion of sovereign Pakistan air space by any US military aircraft without permission will be treated as an act of war, with all the logical consequences that this entails.
Drone victims also hope this might uncover any “secret agreement” the Pakistani government might have with the US that is making it legal or permissible for Pakistanis to have their rights violated by drone attacks.
This development, which has the support of Reprieve, comes nearly a year after he sued the US government on behalf of Karim Khan. Khan’s home was destroyed on New Year’s Eve in 2009 by a drone attack and his brother and son were both killed.
The Pakistan parliament has sought to ban US drones, but the US government has shown the same unremitting indifference to this as it has shown toward victims of drone attacks.
Pakistan and US diplomatic leaders have been meeting to try and mend relations. So far the effort has been nothing but disingenuous. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Pakistan needs to pull its weight in the fight against terrorism. Gilani “repudiated” this suggestion, according to CNN, and said there’s a “trust deficit” between Pakistan and Washington. He also said, “If there is any credible, actionable information, please share with us, because we are already working with you…My ISI is working with the CIA. What else do you want?”
The country has already shut down a NATO supply route that the US was depending on to get supplies to troops in Afghanistan. Outside of that, Pakistan does not have much they can leverage to force the US to respect their sovereignty. Pakistan is for the most part powerless, as Pakistani parliamentary member Dr. Amna Buttar told me in a recent interview.
If Pakistan were to assert itself in international arenas and also open criminal proceedings into drone attacks, that could have a positive effect and show the Pakistani people that their government is no longer going to be complicit in the US government’s state-sanctioned killing of people, who deserve due process in a court of law if they are in fact individuals involved in terrorism.
At the Drone Summit in Washington, DC, just over a week ago, I had the privilege of speaking to Shahzad Akbar, who at the last minute managed to get the US State Department to relent and grant him a visa to attend the summit. Below is the interview where we briefly discuss why the US did not want him to come to the US and how terms the CIA uses for drone strikes just clouds the reality of what is happening with the US drone war in Pakistan.