International human rights groups have criticised Pakistan for lowering civilian casualty numbers of US drone strikes, contradicting its past calculations and the estimates by independent organisations.
Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri said on Thursday that government figures were questionable because the numbers conflicted with their research while the London-based human rights group, Reprieve, described the government’s civilian casualty figures as “inaccurate”.
Pakistan’s defence ministry said on Wednesday that only 67 of 2,227 people killed during the 317 attacks since 2008 were civilians, insisting there have been no civilian casualties since 2011.
The new numbers contradict a UN report released earlier this month, that, quoting Pakistani foreign ministry officials, said the number of civilian deaths were as high as 400 since the drone programme started in 2004.
If the true figures for civilian deaths are significantly lower, then it is important that this should now be made clear, and the apparent discrepancy explained
Responding to the contradictory figures, Ben Emmerson, a UN expert investigating drone strikes, wrote in an email to the Associated Press news agency: “If the true figures for civilian deaths are significantly lower, then it is important that this should now be made clear, and the apparent discrepancy explained.”
Amnesty’s Qadri says the new, lower figures indicated a failure of the state to adequately investigate alleged civilian casualties.
The drone attacks, which mainly target suspected armed fighters near the northwestern border with Afghanistan, are widely unpopular in Pakistan, because they violate the country’s sovereignty and have resulted in civilian casualties.
The Pakistani government regularly criticises the drone programme in public, even though it is known to have secretly supported at least some of the strikes in the past.
Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, pressed US President Barack Obama to end the attacks in a visit to the White House last week, but the US considers the attacks vital to its battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban and gave no indication it was willing to abandon them.
The US rarely speaks publicly about the CIA-run drone programme in Pakistan because it is classified.
But the UN said the US had a legal obligation to launch its own impartial investigation and provide a public explanation in the event of civilian casualties due to the programme.
Some American officials have insisted that the strikes have killed very few civilians and that estimates from the
Pakistani government and independent organisations are exaggerated.
Amnesty International called on the US to investigate reports of civilians killed and wounded by drone strikes in Pakistan in a report released earlier this month that provided new details about the alleged victims of the attacks, including a 68-year-old woman killed while farming with her grandchildren.