Drones are killing innocents and alienating population

Do drone strikes in Pakistan make Americans feel safer?

Following the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, some analysts speculated that the CIA-run campaign of drone strikes against militant targets in Pakistan's north-west would begin to wind down.

Yet, despite Pakistan's demands, the strikes have continued, resulting in many claimed deaths of militant fighters - claims that are hard to verify. What is of significance is ordinary people in Pakistan are convinced these strikes largely kill innocent people.

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Take the recent killing of the high profile al-Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri in a drone strike on 3 June. Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, issued an odd statement following the incident, saying he could confirm "98 per cent" the man had been killed.

The level of accuracy of these strikes has become something of a joke among security analysts. One quip runs that if reports of Kashmiri's death turn out to be premature, he will join the "war on terror's legion of zombie jihadis - those pronounced dead in drone strikes only to rise again."

The drones are operated by the CIA, In a few weeks CIA director Leon Panetta takes over as US defence secretary. He is understood to be an advocate of drone strikes, so are we to see an escalation in their use?

The operators of the pilotless aircraft - based thousands of miles away in the US - are clearly capable of mistakes. Take the case of a botched strike in March which killed over 40 people when it hit a jirga (tribal council) meeting. The victims were innocents - tradesmen, elderly people and policemen. Local tribesmen reacted with fury, saying they would unleash suicide bombers against the US in retaliation: "We are a people who wait 100 years to exact revenge. We never forgive our enemy."

Sadly, they are not kidding. Pakistan is today the world's number one victim of terrorism. An estimated 34,000 Pakistanis have been killed since 2001.

In an open letter to President Barack Obama over the US drone strike policy, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, asks some probing questions: "Could China lawfully declare an ethnic Uighur activist living in New York a "terrorist" and, if the US were unwilling to extradite that person, order a lethal strike on US soil?"

Pakistan is a country which has never been anti-American. Far away from the mountains of Waziristan, most residents in the big cities of Lahore and Karachi have more pressing worries about daily power cuts in soaring temperatures.

In the Urdu language the word for electricity and thunder is the same - bijli. A verse taken from a short poem recently featured in a popular daily paper makes a comparison between power-cuts and drone attacks: "In an age of load-shedding, thunder keeps striking the garden."

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Meanwhile in Balochistan, about 45 per cent of Pakistan's land area, huge numbers have disappeared in an insurgency which has been largely ignored.The 18th-century American revolutionary, Thomas Paine, once said the "most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason." The US needs to adopt a more reasoned approach in its relationship with Pakistan, otherwise it risks pushing more reluctant people into the arms of extremism.

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