Pakistani Opposition to American Drone Strikes

C. Christine Fair, Karl Kaltenhaler, William Miller
Content Type
Journal Article
Political Science Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Spring 2014
Academy of Political Science
AMERICA'S EMPLOYMENT OF WEAPONIZED unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), popularly known as "drones," to kill alleged terrorists in Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas (FATA) fuels sustained controversy in Pakistan. Pakistani outrage has steadily deepened since 2008, when the United States increased the frequency of the strikes. The increasing use of "signature strikes" has been particularly controversial in (and beyond) Pakistan, because such strikes are targeted at "men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren't always known." Whereas personality strikes require the operator to develop a high level of certainty about the target's identity and location, based on multiple sources such as "imagery, cell phone intercepts and informants on the ground," operators may "initiate a signature strike after observing certain patterns of behavior." When conducting signature strikes, the United States assesses that the individuals in question exhibit behaviors that match a pre-identified "signature" (for example, pattern of observable activities and/or personal networks) that suggests that they are associated with al Qaeda and/or the Pakistani or Afghan Taliban organizations. Because the identity of the target is unknown, even during the strike, it is possible that these persons are innocent civilians, a possibility that both current and former U.S. government officials concede. While the George W. Bush administration employed both personality strikes from 2004 and signature strikes from 2008 in Pakistan, the administration of Barack Obama has redoubled the use of both types. This has ignited public protests against the drones in Pakistan, particularly in Pakistan's urban areas—far removed from the tribal areas where drones are employed. It has also galvanized a vigorous debate within Pakistan's National Assembly, which tried, but ultimately failed, to curtail the strikes.
Political Geography
Pakistan, America