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'We watch the drones all day long in fear' - Pakistanis come out to protest U.S. drones

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pakistanis have become increasingly more vocal over the use of unmanned drones that hover over their farmlands and villages. Tiring of the constant hum of the aircraft, more residents here say that the drones target and kill innocent villagers as well as members of the Taliban.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Residents of Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency have come out in droves to protest the drone strikes on the region. The area has quickly become ground zero in the United States' "War on Terror."

Three hundred and thirty-five drone strikes have killed 3,336 people and injured scores more since 2004, according to a conservative estimate by the U.S.-based New America Foundation.

Residents of this mountainous province say that civilians are taking a bigger hit. The U.S. government ostensibly claims to be singling out militants and "Al Qaeda affiliates" for attack.

Political parties have seized on the nation's discontent to advance their position that the attacks constitute an assault on national sovereignty.

A recent strike killed the deputy chief of the outlawed Tehreek Taliban Pakistan Waliur Rehman, on May 29 in North Waziristan, Pakistan's newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif labeled the attack "a violation of international law" and urged the United States to "respect the sovereignty of other countries."

Echoing Sharif's words on sovereignty, PTI Spokesperson Shaukat Ali Yousafzai was quick to point out that his party was the first to take up the issue as far back as May 21, 2011 following a strike that halted a NATO convoy heading for Afghanistan through the KP.

As elections draw near, other parties are keen to "exploit anti-American sentiments and muster electoral support." They likewise are stepping up opposition to the U.S. strikes and a planned operation to cleanse border areas of militants, according to Muhammad Azeem, former mayor of Mardan, one of 25 districts that comprise the troubled KP province.

Parties like the Jamaat Islam and Jamiat Ulemai Islam have also taken to echoing civilians living in terror of drone strikes, and have promised to guard tribal populations from a military offensive by the government.

There is one detail that these political opportunists ignore - as political analyst Javid Hussain points out, this military operation against which parties are now crying foul has been ongoing in all seven agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas since 2005. The onslaught has left 300,000 of the region's 5.8 million people homeless.

"None of the political leaders bothered about it until now," Hussain says, adding that politicians are only interested in the issue of drones insofar as they pay dividends in the election.

The Peshawar High Court declared drone strikes illegal this month and has asked the government to move a resolution against the use of drones in the United Nations.

The court made its announcement in response to a legal petition filed last year by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, an Islamabad-based legal charity, on behalf of the families of up to 50 people killed when missiles stuck a tribal gathering, or jirga, in March 2011.

"The National Assembly has passed several resolutions terming these aerial attacks unlawful, and demanding that they be stopped, but they continue unabated," Wali Khan said.

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