Long something quietly tolerated by the Pakistani government and ignored by the international community, the Obama Administration’s repeated escalation of drone strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas has gotten too big to ignore, with six separate strikes in the first 14 days of the new year killing scores of people.
The attacks and perhaps worse, the ever present drones flying overheard across North Waziristan threatening further attacks are sewing increasing resentment among tribesmen, even as the massive civilian toll of the strikes is sparking outcry across Pakistan and increasingly, abroad.
Even the United Nations seems willing to get involved, with UN human rights investigator Philip Alston that the US needed to show more transparency with the strikes, particularly as the intensity of the strikes increases.
“When we were dealing with isolated cases I raised it with the United States,” Alston noted, “not that it is systematically using drones, it is becoming increasingly important to get that clarification.”
In 2009 the CIA launched 44 strikes into North and South Waziristan, but managed to kill no more than a handful of notable militants. And while the Pakistani government initially labeled virtually everyone slain as a “suspect,” they are increasingly conceding that there is no evidence to back up that suspicion, and that around 700 people, the vast, vast majority of the victims, were likely innocent civilians.
The extralegal killings of hundreds of people without any accountability or in many cases even admission of responsibility is not only harming American credibility with the Pakistani people, it is even straining relations with the Pakistani government, which was willing to quietly support the strikes before the tolls started to soar. Now even they are growing alarmed at the rate with which American missiles are flying into their territory.