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Terror Tuesday’s drone landscape: Harbingers of the future

Two events this past week – one on the ground and one in the air – foreshadow the future we face living with drones.

The “peace convoy” organized by Imran Khan, the former international cricketer who leads Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party, gives us a taste of what is bound to become ever more robust anti-drone protest movement.

Although the convoy was blocked on October 7 by the Pakistani military from reaching its final destination in South Waziristan, some ten thousand protesters in 500 vehicles succeeded in forcing public sentiment against US drone strikes into the mainstream news.

Joining the convoy was an American delegation of 32 people, organized by the group CODEPINK. It included a retired US Army colonel, doctors, students and writers as well as CODEPINK’s co-founder Medea Benjamin, author of the book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

The US delegation, which hoped to meet with the families of drone strike victims as well as Pakistani officials, carried thousands of petition signatures gathered by Just Foreign Policy.

As the convoy traveled for two days from Islamabad toward Waziristan, it was reportedly pelted with rose petals.

Imran Khan, who was accused by rivals of organizing the event simply to burnish his political credentials, may have failed to become the first political leader from a mainstream party to enter the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 35 years.

But there is little doubt that he succeeded in raising the stakes concerning the operation of US killer drones in Waziristan. As he told his supporters, "We want to give a message to America that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you.”

He also told the BBC that if he became prime minister he would order the drones to be shot down because they violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.

The PTI leader may not soon – or ever – have the opportunity to take this kind of action.

But while his peace convoy was traveling overland to Waziristan, Israeli fighter jets did shoot down a mystery drone that had entered its airspace on October 6.

This was the first time in six years that Israeli airspace had been penetrated by a foreign aircraft.

Israel has long been a leader in the development of drone technology. It has been using drones on the battlefield since its 1982 invasion of Lebanon and many hundreds of Palestinians – mostly in the tiny Gaza Strip — have been killed by missiles fired by drones or by missiles fired by F-16s and Apaches after surveillance drones “paint” a human target with a laser.

With more than 50 countries now developing their own drone capacity, the appearance of a drone above Israel forces Israel – and the US – to face up to a new reality: these countries can no longer count on monopolizing this technology.

We have seen the future and it is here.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.