While ex-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was busy admitting on CNN that he approved at least some U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory during his time in office, the chief judge of Peshawar’s High Court was busy stating that drone strikes are illegal, whether elected officials consent to them or not. According to this press release from UK human rights group Reprieve—which filed a lawsuit in response to a March 17, 2011 drone strike in which it says fifty civilians were killed—Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, presiding over the case, said,
[S]ince there is no armed conflict in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where the strikes are taking place, they are in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. As such, international human rights law applies and everyone killed by U.S. drone strikes are civilians.
He also addressed claims that Pervez Musharaf, during his time as Head of State, may have secretly consented to the strikes, stating that a political leader or a dictator cannot consent to drone strikes against its people by a foreign power and that any such consent was therefore both illegal and unconstitutional.
Chief Justice Khan heard arguments about whether American diplomats or CIA officials could be held personally liable for murder, as well as whether the Pakistani Air Force could shoot down drones. The case will be decided next week. Pakistani newspapers Dawn, The News International, the Express Tribune, and The Nation have more on the proceedings, which take place against the backdrop of both an increasingly assertive Pakistani judiciary and enormous anger in Pakistan over the U.S. drone program.
While U.S. judges have kept well clear of ruling on the legality of drone strikes, Pakistani judges have, in recent years, generally not been shy—so it is not particularly surprising that they are now wading into an issue of such political prominence. Pakistan’s Supreme Court, for example, is well known for its aggressive stance under the leadership of its powerful Chief Judge, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Since Musharraf’s days in office, the Court and its supporters have repeatedly tussled with Pakistan’s civilian leadership. Most recently, Chief Judge Chaudhry issued a series of calls for the ouster of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari over allegations of corruption, and then attempted to oust Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani over contempt charges.
That said, I somehow doubt U.S. officials are quaking in their boots about the integrity of the Pakistani consent they receive on grounds that the judicial authorities of Peshawar consider the country’s ex-president as having been ineligible to grant it.