How Pakistanis reacted to Obama’s new guidelines for drone strikes


Pakistani tribal villagers hold a rally to condemn U. S. drone attacks on their villages in 2010.  (B.K. Bangash/AP)

Many Pakistanis carefully listened to President Obama's new rules on America's drone campaign to target militants abroad, especially in the tribal regions of Pakistan. With more than 355 drone strikes on their country since 2004, Pakistani officials have repeatedly said that U.S. drone strikes violate the country's sovereignty and the attacks regularly kill  innocent civilians.

In his first major counterterrorism address of his second term, Obama defended the use of drones as legal, effective and life-saving. As The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller reported, the president outlined new guidelines for deploying drones only against targets that pose a “continuing, imminent threat” to the United States and only in cases in which avoiding civilian casualties is a “near-certainty.”

So, how did Pakistan and Pakistanis react to Obama's speech yesterday?

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Shahzad Mirza Akbar, a human rights lawyer based in Pakistan, said drones will be a big challenge for the incoming government, and despite Obama's new rules, Nawaz Sharif, who will become the new prime minister, will face legal problems if the government does not challenge U.S. drone strikes.

Akbar was referring to the landmark ruling by a Peshawar high court that has ordered the government to ask the United States to either shut down drones or they'll be shot down.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Imtiaz Gul, the head of Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies said the guidelines for drones puts the incoming government in a better position and could help improve the rocky relationship between the two countries.

“The expectation will be that even if a strike happens, it will be a lot more carefully examined before the execution and will be more in coordination with Pakistani forces.”

The BBC quoted a senior official from the newly elected Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League -N, who said the party is disappointed since Obama gave no indication that he'd consult the Pakistan government about continued use of drones.

He said the question of the Americans bombing Pakistani territory without permission is the biggest foreign policy issue facing the new administration, which is preparing to take power after its recent election win.

M Ilyas Khan, BBC's correspondent in Islamabad, said the Pakistani foreign ministry has reacted cautiously and avoided comments on Obama's new rules for drone strikes. He writes:

This suggests that while the new government of Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif may continue to call drone strikes "illegal, counterproductive and a violation of Pakistani sovereignty", it may not have the resolve to stop them. Instead, if it can, it is more likely to seek a role for itself in determining the frequency and targets of these strikes.

Pakistan watchers on social media were also closely listening to Obama's speech. Reacting to Obama's newly narrowed guidelines for deploying drones, Arif Rafiq said:

Shireen Mazari, a member of Imran Khan's political party, took to Twitter to criticize Obama's justification of drones, calling it "absurd."

Others strongly reacted to Obama's statement that the drone strikes have been saved lives.

You can read the full text of Obama's speech here.

Anup Kaphle is the Post's digital foreign editor. He has an M.S. degree in journalism from Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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