Targeted Killing: Drones

The Frenemy Press on Ben Emmerson's Statement

By Ritika Singh
Friday, March 22, 2013, 10:07 AM

As Ben and Gregory McNeal posted earlier, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson, issued this statement on March 14 after a three-day visit to Pakistan, in which he concluded that U.S. drone strikes are, in the Pakistani government’s eyes, “a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and that “[a]s a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is . . . being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate Government of the State [of Pakistan].”

Emmerson's statement has produced only a ripple of attention in the Western media---and this non-comment comment from the White House: "We have a solid working relationship with them [Pakistan] on a range of issues, including a close cooperative security relationship, and we're in touch with them on a regular basis on those issues."  More surprising, perhaps, is that the Pakistani media, which takes almost every opportunity to vociferously denounce drone strikes, seems to be yawning about the Emmerson statement too. Emmerson is the most prominent international official to publicly endorse Pakistan’s longstanding grievances about the strikes, and to do so with the claim of a substantial investigation behind him. It seems like the perfect opportunity for Pakistanis to call once again for a halt to the strikes.

Besides reprints of this Associated Press story and a reprint of this Reuters story, however, I came across little coverage from the English-language Pakistani press, save for a few stories from the Express Tribune and The News International. (I have not examined the Urdu-language newspapers, as my written Urdu is not up to the task, but I have scoured the Urdu-language television stations available online, and they don't seem to be going ape for Emmerson either.)  UpdateDawood I. Ahmed drew my attention to these additional stories in Dawn and the Nation.

I did see two interesting pieces of commentary very worth taking note of: This editorial from the News International argued against the drone program, but, notably, did not trumpet Emmerson's statement; rather, it criticized the Pakistani stance on drones as an unpredictable and shifting posture that only contributed to the obfuscation surrounding the issue. And this opinion piece in Dawn argued that the "key element" in the debate is that of Pakistani consent and that barring this consent, "in the wake of Mr Emmerson’s findings, the strikes need to cease."

The real reason, I suspect, that most Pakistani media outlets are treating the Emmerson statement as transient news is that the country is understandably consumed with upcoming elections in Pakistan. Over the weekend, the current civilian leadership stepped down for the first time in the country’s history, and looming elections in May have dominated much of the political discourse. Pakistani politicians have all had much to say on drones, and the rhetoric is sure to intensify in the months before the election. Imran Khan, the cricket star turned politician, is one to look out for; recall that he led a march into the FATA last year to protest drone strikes, which was stopped by Pakistani authorities. I will follow up with a post about what key political players in Pakistan are saying on the subject of drones in the context of the election.

The issue is sure to remain live. After all, not only is the White House not changing its tune based on Emmerson’s findings, its much-vaunted movement of the drone program from the CIA to the Defense Department promises little change for Pakistanis. According to Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane of the New York Times, "the proposal being examined by the National Security Council would most likely leave drone operations in Pakistan under the C.I.A."