ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani government said Wednesday that 3 percent of the people killed in U.S. drone strikes since 2008 were civilians, a surprisingly low figure that could alter the highly negative public perception of the attacks.
The number, which was provided by the Defense Ministry to lawmakers, is much lower than past government calculations and estimates by independent organizations. The ministry said 317 drone strikes have killed 2,160 Islamist militants and 67 civilians since 2008.
The attacks are widely disliked in Pakistan, where many view them as violating the country’s sovereignty and causing too many civilian casualties. The Pakistani government regularly criticizes the drone program in public, even though it is known to have secretly supported at least some of the strikes.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pressed President Obama to end the attacks in a visit to the White House last week, but the United States has given no sign that it is willing to abandon the drone strikes, which it views as vital to its battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
There was no indication why the new data seem to differ so much from past government calculations and outside estimates.
A U.N. expert investigating drone strikes, Ben Emmerson, said this month that the Pakistani Foreign Ministry told him that at least 400 civilians have been killed by drone attacks in the country since they started in 2004.
Emmerson called on the Islamabad government to explain the apparent discrepancy, with the Foreign Ministry figure indicating a much higher percentage of civilian casualties.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in London, has estimated that drones have killed at least 300 civilians in Pakistan since 2008, while the Washington-based New America Foundation puts the figure at 185 civilians. Such estimates are often compiled from news media reports about the attacks.
Pakistan’s figure for total deaths, 2,227, is lower than some other totals, although not to the same degree as its figure for civilians. The New America Foundation has a total of 2,651 people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan since 2008, while the Long War Journal Web site has 2,493.
The United States rarely speaks publicly about the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan because it is classified. But officials have insisted in private that the strikes have killed very few civilians and that estimates from the Pakistani government and independent organizations are exaggerated.
The rights group Amnesty International called on the United States to investigate claims of civilian drone casualties in Pakistan in a report released this month that included new details about the alleged victims. Those included a 68-year-old grandmother killed by missile fire in October 2012 while farming with her grandchildren in the North Waziristan tribal area, a major militant sanctuary near the Afghanistan border.
Some of her relatives testified before members of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday.
Contrary to the information outlined in the report, the Pakistani government said Wednesday that there were no civilian casualties last year.