Unmanned and threatening

The US administration wants to eliminate terrorists and ensure security with drone strikes in Pakistan. This strategy is counterproductive, argues a recent report from two universities in the United States.

By Merle Becker

In the affected areas, drone attacks are leaving their mark on everyday life. As human rights experts from Stanford University and New York University spell out in their publication, entire villages are living in fear, and many people are mentally traumatised. The authors of “Living under drones” base their assessment on empirical research in Pakistan. They report that people are no longer gathering in groups because they are afraid of drone strikes. Families plunge into poverty, it is further argued, when they lose their house or a bread winner. The academic jurists criticise the US practice of repeatedly attacking the same place because it makes it close to impossible to care for the wounded. The reason is that people no longer dare to go where a bomb has struck. The authors state, moreover, that villagers no longer trust one another, suspecting they might be indicated as targets by spies who work for the USA.

According to the report, drone strikes killed up to 3325 persons in Pakistan since 2004, and up to 881 of them may have been civilians. The US administration only acknowledges a single digit number of civilian deaths.

The scholars, moreover, disagree with what is called “signature attacks”. Such attacks target people with behavioural patterns believed to be typical of terrorists. According to the report, moreover, drone strikes are far less accurate than officially declared. Only two percent, the human rights activists state, really hit high-profile terrorist targets. The scholars’ assessment is harsh: instead of establishing security, the drone strategy is making even more Pakistanis support violent extremists.

The authors question whether attacks on individuals or groups who neither threaten the USA directly nor have any immediate links to the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 are legal at all. They want the US administration to re-appraise the strategy, taking into account the needs of Pakistan’s people. The report also demands more transparency. Independent enquires are needed, it argues, and so are compensation schemes for innocent victims of drone strikes.

Merle Becker

Related Articles


Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals will require good governance – from the local to the global level.


The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to transform economies in an environmentally sound manner, leaving no one behind.