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Background and Context

This section provides background and contextual information relevant to understanding U.S drone policies in Pakistan. It provides a basic overview of what unmanned aerial vehicles are, how the US has been using this technology as part of a broader effort to engage in “targeted killing” of alleged enemies, and how the use of drones has undergone a dramatic escalation under President Obama. The section also provides some background on Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the area in which most drone strikes take place, on the residents of North Waziristan who live under drones, and on armed non-state actors and military forces in northwest Pakistan.

The US government has been using armed unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to carry out hundreds of covert missile strikes in northwest Pakistan since at least June 2004. Drone strikes now form a key part of the US government’s approach to counterterrorism and enable the US to kill from afar without immediate risk to American lives. For years, the government would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the strikes, and only began to outline the practices and legal justifications following significant pressure from domestic and international civil society.[1] To date, the government has refused to provide necessary details on how the program works, how targets are chosen, or how legality and accountability are ensured, leading civil society groups repeatedly to request this information.[2] Instead, the government insists that the killings are lawful, and that virtually all of those targeted are linked to Al Qaeda and associated forces and pose a threat to US national security.[3] Recently, anonymous government officials have revealed that, for the purpose of tracking civilian casualties, the government presumes that all military-age males killed in drone strikes are combatants.[4]

Drones: An Overview

According to the US Department of Defense, a drone, or unmanned aircraft, is an “aircraft or balloon that does not carry a human operator and is capable of flight under remote control or autonomous programming.”[5] Although drones have only recently become the subject of significant public debate, they are not new, and their origins can be traced at least to World War I.[6] Throughout the twentieth century, however, they were used primarily for surveillance, most notably during the Gulf War and the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s.[7] The first armed drones were flown in Afghanistan in early October 2001.[8] Since then, the US has increased its arsenal of Predator drones from 167 in 2002 to more than 7,000 today.[9]

There are two types of lethal drones primarily now used by the US: the MQ-1B Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper.[10] The Predator MQ-1B, first flown in 1994,[11] was designed “to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information combined with a kill capability.”[12] Equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, the Predator MQ-1B was the world’s first-ever weaponized unmanned aircraft system.[13] As P.W. Singer writes in Wired for War, “[a]t twenty-seven feet in length, [the Predator] is just a bit smaller than a Cessna. . . . made of composite materials instead of metals, the Predator weighs just 1,130 pounds. Perhaps its best quality is that it can spend some twenty-four hours in the air, flying at heights of up to twenty-six thousand feet.”[14] The MQ-9 Reaper “is larger and more powerful than the MQ-1 Predator and is designed to prosecute time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, and destroy or disable those targets.”[15]

The technical precision of these weapons has been disputed, including by companies that developed software used in targeting.[16] One factor that reduces targeting precision is ‘latency,’ the delay between movement on the ground and the arrival of the video image via satellite to the drone pilot. As the New York Times reported in July 2012, “Last year senior operatives with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula told a Yemeni reporter that if they hear an American drone overhead, they move around as much as possible.”[17] Even when they are precise, however, casualties and damage are not necessarily confined to the specific individual, vehicle, or structure targeted. The blast radius from a Hellfire missile can extend anywhere from 15-20 meters;[18] shrapnel may also be projected significant distances from the blast.

Drones and Targeted Killing as a Response to 9/11

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration began a campaign of ‘targeted killing’ against suspected members of Al Qaeda and other armed groups.[19] The CIA allegedly carried out its first targeted drone killing in February 2002 in Afghanistan, where a strike killed three men near a former mujahedeen base called Zhawar Kili.[20] Some reports suggest the CIA thought one of the three men might have been bin Laden in part due to his height.[21] When questioned in the aftermath of the strike, however, authorities confirmed that it was not bin Laden and, instead, appeared not to know who they had killed. A Pentagon spokeswoman stated, “[w]e’re convinced that it was an appropriate target,”[22] but added, “[w]e do not know yet exactly who it was.”[23] Another spokesman later added that there were “no initial indications that these were innocent locals.”[24] Reports since have suggested that the three individuals were local civilians collecting scrap metal.[25]

Six months later, on November 3, 2002, the US took the targeted killing program to Yemen. US officials, reportedly operating a drone from a base in Djibouti, hit and killed six men travelling in a vehicle in an under-populated area of Yemen.[26] One of the men was Qaed Sinan Harithi, believed to have been one of the planners of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.[27] In January 2003, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, concluded that the strike “constitute[d] a clear case of extrajudicial killing.”[28]

Nonetheless, the strike in Yemen set the precedent for what would later become a full scale program of targeted killing by drone in Pakistan. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, a number of Taliban fighters fled across the border into Pakistan and in particular FATA, which borders Afghanistan.[29] From 2002 to 2004, the US used Predator drones to monitor this area. Then, in June 2004, the US launched a strike against Nek Muhammad, a Pakistani Taliban commander who two months prior had announced his support for Al Qaeda.[30] Witnesses initially reported that the missile was fired from a drone circling overhead, but the Pakistani military denied any US involvement, instead taking credit for the operation itself.[31] Today, this is widely believed to have been the first US drone strike in Pakistan.[32]

President Obama’s Escalation of the Drone Program

When President Bush left office in January 2009, the US had carried out at least 45 drone strikes according to the New America Foundation, or 52 according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), inside Pakistan.[33] Since then, President Obama has reportedly carried out more than five times that number: 292 strikes in just over three and a half years.[34] This dramatic escalation in the US use of drones to carry out targeted killings has brought with it escalating tensions between the US and Pakistan, as well as continued questions about the efficacy and accuracy of such strikes.[35]

“Personality Strikes” and so-called “Signature Strikes”

A key feature of the Obama administration’s use of drones has been a reported expansion in the use of “signature” strikes. Between 2002 and 2007, the Bush administration reportedly focused targeted killings on “personality” strikes targeting named, allegedly high-value leaders of armed, non-state groups like Salim Sinan al Harethi and Nek Mohammad.[36] Under Obama, the program expanded to include far more “profile” or so-called “signature” strikes based on a “pattern of life” analysis.[37] According to US authorities, these strikes target “groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren’t known.”[38] Just what those “defining characteristics” are has never been made public. In 2012, the New York Times paraphrased a view shared by several officials that “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.”[39] The Times also reported that some in the Obama administration joke that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” they think it is a terrorist training camp.[40]

Who Makes the Call?

On June 15, 2012, the Obama administration, in a letter to Congress, publicly acknowledged the existence of military actions in Yemen and Somalia against individuals alleged to be linked to Al Qaeda.[41] However, the administration has not provided similar statements about CIA activities (including drone programs) in Pakistan and Yemen.[42] As a result, what little public information exists about government perspectives, programs, and policies has come largely through anonymous sources and leaks in major news outlets. In May 2012, three such stories—one by the New York Times,[43] one by the Associated Press,[44] and one by Newsweek reporter and author Daniel Klaidman[45]—revealed the most information to date about how the decision to kill a particular target is made.

According to the Associated Press and the New York Times, the President acts as the final decision maker, at least with respect to the decision to carry out “personality strikes” targeting named individuals. According to the New York Times, early in his presidency, “the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a ‘near certainty’ that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide personally whether to go ahead.”[46] Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman noted that, “Obama followed the CIA operations closely”[47] and that he would frequently pull aside CIA director Leon Panetta “and ask for details about particular strikes.”[48]

Both the CIA and the US Special Operations Command,[49] the latter through its Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)—have their own target lists. Those lists are drawn up through independent processes, but significant overlap often exists.[50] The administration claims to have a thorough vetting process by which names are chosen. It is unclear what, if any, process is in place for decisions regarding the so-called “signature strikes,” which are particularly problematic and open to abuse and mistake.[51] These strikes target individuals or groups “who bear characteristics associated with terrorism but whose identities aren’t known.”[52]

Pakistan’s Divided Role [53]

Pakistan-US relations are complex and complicated by continuing drone strikes. Pakistan initially appeared to support US strikes covertly. From 2004 through at least 2007, the Pakistani government claimed responsibility for attacks that had, in fact, been conducted by the US, thus allowing the US to deny any involvement.[54] In 2008, according to cables released by Wikileaks, Pakistan’s Prime Minister reportedly told US Embassy officials, “I don’t care if they [conduct strikes] as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”[55] In 2009, both Pakistan’s Prime Minister and its Foreign Minister publicly celebrated the drone strike that killed Baitullah Mehsud, the alleged leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP), an armed group that launches terrorist attacks within Pakistan.[56]

As strikes have increased, however, so too has the Pakistani public’s opposition to them. In 2011, rising opposition to the US within Pakistan was further exacerbated by three separate events: the public shooting of two men by CIA agent Raymond Davis in January, the May raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound and his killing,[57] and the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in an errant NATO airstrike in November.[58]

It is important to note that segments of the Pakistani population, including in FATA, support drone strikes that kill terrorists. This is primarily because of the significant toll that terrorists and armed non-state groups take on the civilian population.[59] In the absence of other effective government action, some support military efforts to attack and kill terrorists.

However, it is clear that the majority of the population oppose current drone practices. A Pew Research Poll conducted in 2012 found only 17 per cent of Pakistanis favor the US conducting “drone strikes against leaders of extremist groups, even if they are conducted in conjunction with the Pakistani government.”[60] Of those familiar with the drone campaign, the study noted that 94 per cent of Pakistanis believe the attacks kill too many innocent people and 74 per cent say they are not “necessary to defend Pakistan from extremist organizations.”[61] Further, particular strikes (such as those targeting first responders), as well as the constant presence of drones overhead, have caused significant hardships for many in FATA. Because the consequences of US drone practice for those living in targeted areas have been largely omitted from coverage in the US, this report focuses on these effects.

Opposition to drone strikes has accompanied increasingly negative perceptions of the US. Roughly three in four now consider the US an enemy, an increase from both 2010 and 2011.[62] David Kilcullen, former Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to General David Petraeus, and Andrew M. Exum of the Center for a New American Security have explained that “[p]ublic outrage at the strikes is hardly limited to the region in which they take place . . . . Rather, the strikes are now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion in Punjab and Sindh, the nation’s two most populous provinces.”[63]

Pakistani officials have been very vocal, particularly in 2012, in their opposition to ongoing drone strikes in FATA. They have asserted that the strikes are unlawful, a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, and counterproductive.[64]

Conflict, Armed Non-State Groups, and Military Forces in Northwest Pakistan

For decades, and including back at least to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and 1980s, northwest Pakistan has been the site of significant unrest. When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, it persuaded Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to assist its regional counter-terrorism operations,[65] contributing to a change in FATA dynamics.[66] Fighting in FATA intensified in the coming years as the Pakistani government scaled up military efforts to combat some of the armed non-state groups operating in Pakistan.[67]

For the past decade, violence in northwest Pakistan has involved a range of armed non-state actor groups, Pakistani forces, and US forces (through drones). The armed non-state groups reportedly operating in the region include Al Qaeda, the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani Network, the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP), and Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM).[68] Some of these groups have been involved in attacks against Pakistani civilians and government targets, while others have engaged in battles with US and Afghan forces across the border in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has also attempted to control local FATA governance functions. As New American Foundation analyst Brian Fishman has written:

Before the arrival of the Taliban in 2001. . . . [t]he government was perceived as corrupt, [and] tribal judicial processes as unfair and too slow. The Taliban’s strict interpretation of sharia did not appeal to everyone in the tribal agencies, but…Taliban courts resolved disputes between tribes and clans that had dragged on for decades. The Taliban even limited corruption among some political agents.[69]

However, the methods employed by the Taliban in FATA have often been extremely violent, and analysts have noted the ways in which they have weakened existing social structures. As Fishman observes:

Taliban militants have systematically undermined the tribal system, which serves as a social organizing principle and the primary system of governance in the FATA. The most overt method has been to kill the tribal elders who serve as interlocutors between the political agent and locals. The assassinations serve the dual purpose of intimidating local tribes and eliminating the tenuous links between Pakistan’s central government and tribes in the FATA.[70]

As many have reported, Taliban forces have been responsible for a wide range of severe abuses against civilians in FATA. According to the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), an organization dedicated to promoting the right of civilian victims to amends, attacks by armed non-state actors in northwest Pakistan have “directly targeted civilians, shattering lives and spreading fear.”[71] Amnesty International, in a 2010 report, elaborated on abuses by the Taliban in FATA:

The Taleban’s violent conduct quickly shocked many locals, even though many people in northwest Pakistan adhered to conservative religious and cultural practices…Taleban forced men to maintain long beards; wear caps; not smoke, watch television, or listen to music; attend religious teachings; and pray five times a day at mosque. They used violence to force women to stay inside if not veiled, and to be accompanied by a male relative outside the home. . . . militants began attacking military look-out posts (also known as pickets), bridges, schools, hospitals, electricity and mobile telephone towers, markets, and shops, civilian and military convoys, anti-Taleban tribal elders, and so-called spies.[72]

While often linked by broad ideology, armed non-state groups in northwest Pakistan differ on issues such as operational strategies and willingness to collaborate with Pakistani authorities. The Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura, for example, have reportedly collaborated in particular ways with the Pakistani state.[73] Other groups have attacked Pakistani targets brutally, particularly after a high profile hostage crisis at the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque.[74] In July 2007, the Pakistani military stormed the mosque, which had been occupied by an extremist cleric and thousands of followers.[75] The clash resulted in over 100 deaths.[76]

The response of the Pakistani authorities to increased militancy in FATA has involved military engagement, interspersed with failed ceasefires and peace agreements.[77] Pakistani forces engaged in the conflict in northwest Pakistan include the federal paramilitary force Frontier Corps (FC), the Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI), and tribal lashkars (traditional tribal militias).[78] Pakistani forces have been responsible for severe rights abuses, particularly in the course of counterterrorism operations. These have included extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, as well as complicity in the murder of journalists.[79] Amnesty International has noted that “government forces are also culpable of systematic and widespread human rights violations in FATA and [the Northwest Frontier Province], both in the course of military operations and by subjecting suspected insurgents to arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and apparent extrajudicial execution.”[80] According to Human Rights Watch, “[t]he government appeared powerless to rein in the military’s abuses.”[81]

Understanding the Target: FATA in Context

FATA consists of seven agencies and six Frontier Regions, and is bordered by the Durand line and Afghanistan to the west, by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to the north and east, and by Balochistan province to the south.[82] 

Pashtun Culture and Social Norms

FATA is inhabited almost entirely by Pashtuns,[83] a group of tribes that first settled in the area more than 1,000 years ago. The various Pashtun tribes live not only in FATA, but also in large parts of south and east Afghanistan. Altogether, there are some 25 million Pashtuns worldwide, making it one of the largest tribal groups in the world.[84] Because of the shared ethnicity and porous nature of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Pashtuns on either side regularly interact with each other.[85]

Pashtun social life and legal norms are framed by Pashtunwali/Pukhtunwali (“the way of the Pashtuns”), an ethical code and “system of customary legal norms.”[86] Its fundamental principles include “[h]onour of the individual and honour of groups; [f]ighting spirit and bravery; [e]quality and respect for seniors; [c]onsultation and decision making; [w]illpower and sincerity; [c]ompensation and retaliation; [g]enerosity and hospitality; [p]ride and zeal.”[87]

One particularly important principle of Pashtunwali is melmastia or hospitality. Such “hospitality whether individually or collectively expressed, is one of the major cognitive, tangible and coherent symbols of ‘Pukhtunwali’ to the Pathan.”[88] This concept, in turn, is related to the principle of nanawatey/nanawati, or asylum, sometimes defined as “to enter into the security of a house.”[89] Thus, “the defense of the guest comes under the norm of nanawati. . . . the guest is protected and his enemies repelled for as long as he stays.”[90] Together, the two concepts impose a high burden on Pashtuns to provide for and protect guests and those seeking asylum. The Pashtunwali demands “the feeding of strangers and friends, both in [sic] guest house and in the home.”[91] This duty to provide hospitality to all may create complications where it leads civilians to provide shelter to armed non-state actors, not out of support for their cause, but to fulfill a fundamental duty.[92]


FATA is a territory subject to the direct authority of the Pakistani President.[93] Laws passed by the Parliament of Pakistan have no effect in FATA unless the President so directs,[94] and the Pakistani courts have no jurisdiction in FATA.[95] Only the President of Pakistan has the power to issue and enforce new regulations, “for the peace and good governance” of FATA.[96] The executive’s administrative role is generally limited to overseeing development projects and punishing crime. In practice, the administration of development in FATA is carried out primarily by the Civil Secretariat FATA, in cooperation with the Secretariat of the Governor of the neighboring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.[97] Each of the seven FATA agencies are administered by a political agent, who supervises federal development projects and handles inter-tribal disputes.[98]

The most important legal and social institution for the resolution of community conflicts in FATA is the jirga, a decision-making assembly of male elders.[99] Jirgas can vary in formality, but in essence they are group discussions in which community problems are resolved, and legal issues addressed.[100] The jirga system is based on Pashtun conceptions of justice, community input, and effective administration of local affairs.[101]

Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), a system of laws applicable only to FATA, institutionalizes both the Pashtun tribes’ traditional reliance on the jirga as the primary mechanism for dispute resolution, and the British maliki patronage system used to subjugate the tribes. Under FCR, individual residents can bring disputes before selected tribal elders called maliki (singular: malik), who settle disputes in a jirga according to Pashtun codes.[102] Importantly, a malik is the liaison elder selected by the government, not necessarily the most authoritative elder in the tribe. Much police work is entrusted to khassadars, government employees administered at the local level by maliks,[103] who serve as a locally recruited auxiliary police force.[104]

The political agent in each FATA agency has funding and broad powers to “secure the loyalty of influential elements in the area,” i.e. by providing the malik with “hospitality” allowances in exchange for furthering the government’s agendas.[105]

Economy and Households

FATA suffers from one of highest poverty rates in the world. The per capita income is approximately US$250 per year, with 60 percent of the population living below the national poverty line.[106] Undeveloped infrastructure and low per capita public development expenditure have resulted in an overall literacy rate of only 17 percent. Most of the population depends on subsistence agriculture, manual labor, small-scale local business, or remittances from relatives working abroad or in other regions of Pakistan for survival.[107] In North Waziristan, chromite mining operations also provide limited contract jobs near the Afghan border.[108] There are only 41 hospitals in the region,[109] and an estimated one doctor for every 6,762 residents.[110]

In North Waziristan, extended families often live together in compounds that contain several homes, often constructed with mud.[111] Most compounds include a hujra, which is the main gathering room for men and the area in which male family members entertain visitors.[112] The hujra is often in close proximity to buildings reserved exclusively for women and children. As a result, the shrapnel and resulting blast of a missile strike on a hujra can and has killed and injured women and children in these nearby structures.[113]

Accessing FATA

While FATA has been termed “the most dangerous place,”[114] few outside the region have a thorough understanding of life in the area. Citing security concerns, the Pakistani military has barred not only the media and virtually all international organizations from entering the region, but also most Pakistani nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and non-FATA-resident Pakistani citizens.[115] While outsiders cannot get in, neither can residents easily get out. Residents are regularly subjected to extended and unplanned curfews that limit their mobility,[116] in some cases even preventing them from getting appropriate medical care,[117] or holding funerals for loved ones who have been killed.[118] When the curfews are lifted, travel within and outside of the region is hampered by armed non-state actor activity, and a network of military and civilian checkpoints that subject residents to intense interrogation and harassment.[119] Trips that would normally take only a few hours can take days, or travelers may be turned back before they reach their destination.[120]

The barriers to information are more than just physical. Journalists trying to report on the situation in FATA are subject to threats and pressure from the local administration, security forces, and militants, all of whom have an interest in controlling the information reported.[121] Residents of FATA and professionals who live there, including doctors and humanitarian workers, also live in fear of violence from Pakistani, American, and Taliban forces.[122] High-profile stories of Taliban retaliation against individuals suspected of spying for the US have generated widespread suspicion throughout Waziri communities. Most recently, in February 2012, the Taliban reportedly beheaded a 70-year-old baker suspected of spying for the US.[123] Earlier, in 2009, Taliban forces reportedly executed 19-year old Habibur Rehman for allegedly dropping US-provided “transmitter chips” at local Taliban and Al Qaeda houses, signaling specific targets for CIA drone strikes.[124] In a videotaped “confession,” Rehman admitted to “throwing the chips all over” because the money was so good.[125] The story bred fear and suspicion throughout Waziristan, where residents are “gripped by rumors that paid CIA informants have been planting tiny silicon-chip homing devices” that attract the drones.[126] Many of the Waziris we interviewed spoke of a constant fear of being tagged with a chip by a neighbor or someone else who works for either Pakistan or the US, and of the fear of being falsely accused of spying by local Taliban.[127]

[1] Covert War on Terror—The Data, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, (last visited Aug. 8, 2012). Obama acknowledged that the US was using drones to target suspected terrorists in FATA in an online video chat on January 31, 2012. See President Obama’s Google+ Hangout, (Jan. 30, 2012), More recently, his top counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, discussed drone strikes, as well as counterterrorism policies in Pakistan, in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. See John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, The Efficacy and Ethics of US Counterterrorism Strategy, Remarks at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Apr. 30, 2012), available at

[2] See supra note 16 and accompanying text; Letter from Amnesty International et al. to Barack Obama, President of the United States (May 31, 2012), available at Letter from Amnesty International et al. to Barack Obama, President of the United States (May 31, 2012), available at (requesting that information be released to Congress concerning “US drone use, including targeting criteria for signature strikes; mechanisms used by the CIA and JSOC to ensure that such targeting is within the confines of international law, including which laws are being applied to these cases and definitions of a civilian; the procedure in place for investigations when civilians are known to have suffered losses of life, limb or property as a result of strikes; and mechanisms in place to track, analyze and public recognize civilian casualties.”).

[3] See, e.g., Brennan, supra note 16; President Obama’s Google+ Hangout, supra note 16; see also Ken Dilanian, US Put New Restrictions on CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan, L.A. Times (Nov. 7, 2011),; Justin Elliott, Obama Administration’s Drone Death Figures Don’t Add Up, ProPublica (June 18, 2012),

[4] Jo Becker & Scott Shane, Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will, N.Y. Times (May 29, 2012),

[5] Dep’t of Defense, 331 Joint Publication 1-02, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (2010) (amended July 15, 2012).

[6] Time Line of UAVs, PBS, (last visited Aug. 8, 2012).

[7] See Mary Ellen O’Connell, Unlawful Killing with Combat Drones: A Case Study of Pakistan, 2004-2009 3 (Notre Dame Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-43, 2010).

[8] Eric Schmitt, Threats and Responses: The Battlefield: US Would Use Drones to Attack Targets, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2002),

[9] Anna Mulrine, Unmanned Drone Attacks and Shape-Shifting Robots: War’s Remote Control Future, Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 22, 2011),

[10] See also Spencer Ackerman, Air Force is Through With Predator Drones, Wired (Dec. 14, 2010),; Noah Shachtman, US Military Joins CIA’s Drone War in Pakistan, Wired (Dec. 10, 2009), Both the Predator and the Reaper are manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. For more information, see Aircraft Platforms, General Atomics Aeronautical, (last visited Aug. 8, 2012). General Atomics refers to the original Predator platform as the “Predator UAS,” and to the Reaper platform as the “Predator B UAS.” Id.

[11] Predator UAS, General Atomics Aeronautical, (last visited Aug. 8, 2012).

[12] MQ-1B Predator Factsheet, United States Air Force, (last visited Aug. 8September ited Aug. 8, 2012) es , 2012).

[13] Id.; see Predator UAS, supra note 26.

[14] P.W. Singer, Wired for War 32-33 (2009).

[15] MQ-9 Reaper Factsheet, United States Air Force, (last visited July 16, 2012).

[16] Christopher Williams, CIA Used ‘Illegal, Inaccurate Code to Target Kill Drones, Register (Sept. 24, 2010), Intelligent Integration Systems (IIsi), the software firm that developed the location analysis software package used in drones known as “Geospatial”, claimed in court that Netezza, the data warehousing firm that eventually sold the product to the CIA, “illegally and hastily reverse-engineered IISi’s code to deliver a version that produced locations inaccurate by up to 13 meters. Despite knowing about the miscalculations, the CIA accepted the software, court submissions indicate.” Id. Richard Zimmerman, IISi’s CTO, stated that “my reaction was one of stun, amazement that they want to kill people with my software that doesn’t work.” Id.

[17] Mark Mazzetti, The Drone Zone, N.Y. Times (July 6, 2012), available at

[18] Thomas Gillespie, Katrina Laygo, Noel Rayo & Erin Garcia, Drone Bombings in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas: Public Remote Sensing Applications for Security Monitoring, 4 J. of Geographic Information System 136, 139 (2012), available at

[19] Q&A: US Targeted Killings and International Law, Human Rights Watch (Dec. 19, 2011),

[20] John Sifton, A Brief History of Drones, Nation (Feb. 7, 2012),

[21] Id. (“CIA observers thought they’d seen bin Laden: a tall man with long robes near Tarnek Farm, bin Laden’s erstwhile home near Kandahar. This sighting by an unarmed drone was what led to the first arguments among the White House and CIA about arming drones with missiles.”).

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.; see Jane Mayer, The Predator War, New Yorker (Oct. 26, 2009), available at; Seymour M. Hersh, Annals of National Security: Manhunt, New Yorker (Dec. 23, 2002), available at

[26] Doyle McManus, A US License to Kill, L.A. Times (Jan. 11, 2003),

[27] Id.

[28] Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Civil and Political Rights, Including the Questions of Disappearances and Summary Executions, ¶ 39, Commission on Human Rights, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2003/3 (Jan. 13, 2003) (by Asma Jahangir), available at

[29] See Brian Glyn Williams, The CIA’s Covert Predator Drone War in Pakistan, 2004-2010: The History of an Assassination Campaign, 33 Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 871, 873-74 (2010).

[30] Id. at 874; see also Pir Zubair Shah, My Drone War, Foreign Pol’y (Mar./Apr. 2012),,1.

[31] David Rohde & Mohammed Khan, Ex-Fighter for Taliban Dies in Strike in Pakistan, N.Y. Times (June 19, 2004),

[32] Peter Bergen & Jennifer Rowland, Drones Decimating Taliban in Pakistan, CNN (July 3, 2012),; see Shah, supra note 45; see also 2004-2007—The Year of the Drone, New America Foundation, (last visited Aug. 8, 2012); The Bush Years: Pakistan Strikes 2004-2009, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, (last visited Aug. 8, 2012).

[33] Peter Bergen & Katherine Tiedemann, The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of US Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2010, New America Foundation, 1 (2010), available at; The Bush Years: Pakistan Strikes 2004-2009, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, supra note 47.

[34] See Covert War on Terror—The Data, supra note 16.

[35] See infra Chapter 5: Strategic Considerations.

[36] Leila Hudson, Colin S. Owens & Matt Flannes, Drone Warfare: Blowback from the New American Way of War, Middle East Policy (Fall 2011) (noting in the last two years of the Bush administration, “an acceleration of attack frequency,” and a much lower percentage of high-value targets killed in relation to overall fatalities), available at; see David S. Cloud, CIA Drones Have Broader List of Targets, L.A. Times (May 5, 2010),

[37] Cloud, supra note 51; see Daniel Klaidman, Drones: How Obama Learned to Kill, Daily Beast (May 28, 2012, 1:00 AM) (excerpt from Klaidman’s book Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, infra note 53), According to recent news reports, the CIA may have given these strikes a new name: terrorist-attack-disruption strikes (TADS). Id.

[38] Daniel Klaidman, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency 41 (2012); see also Becker & Shane, supra note 19 (“In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only ‘personality’ strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but ‘signature’ strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.”).

[39] Becker & Shane, supra note 19.

[40] Id.

[41] Letter from Barack Obama, President of the US, to John Boehner, Speaker of the US House of Representatives (June 15, 2012), available at (“In Somalia, the US military has worked to counter the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida and al-Qa’ida-associated elements of al-Shabaab. In a limited number of cases, the US military has taken direct action in Somalia against members of al-Qa’ida, including those who are also members of al-Shabaab, who are engaged in efforts to carry out terrorist attacks against the US and our interests. . . . The US military has also been working closely with the Yemeni government to operationally dismantle and ultimately eliminate the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active and dangerous affiliate of al-Qa’ida today. Our joint efforts have resulted in direct action against a limited number of AQAP operatives and senior leaders in that country who posed a terrorist threat to the United States and our interests.”); see also Adam Entous, US Acknowledges Its Drone Strikes, Wall St. J. (June 15, 2012),

[42] See Entous, supra note 56. (“The Central Intelligence Agency’s covert drone campaigns in Yemen and Pakistan haven’t been similarly declassified, officials said.”) The language in President Obama’s June 15, 2012 letter does not expressly refer to drones or UAVs in Yemen and Somalia. See Letter from Barack Obama, supra note 56. However, as Entous writes, “The move effectively declassifies the existence of the military’s targeted-killing campaigns against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and certain Al Qaeda and al Shabaab militants in Somalia, though without providing any details about the operations themselves.” Entous, supra note 56; see also US Air Strike Kills Top al-Qaida Leader in Yemen, Guardian (May 7, 2012), (“CIA drone strike hits Fahd al-Quso.”).

[43] Becker & Shane, supra note 19.

[44] Kimberly Dozier, Who Will Drones Target? Who in the US Will Decide?, Associated Press (May 21, 2012),

[45] Klaidman, Drones: How Obama Learned to Kill, supra note 52.

[46] Becker & Shane, supra note 19.

[47] Klaidman, Drones: How Obama Learned to Kill, supra note 52.

[48] Id.

[49] The US Special Operations Command is comprised of the Special Operations Commands of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps of the US Armed Forces. About USSOCOM, United States Special Operations Command, (last visited on Sept. 15, 2012).

[50] Dozier, supra note 59.

[51] According to anonymous officials interviewed by the New York Times, prior to May 2012, the Department of Defense went through a vetting process for personality strikes that “paralleled” a similar process at the CIA. Becker & Shane, supra note 19. This vetting process involved a video conference run by the Pentagon that included more than 100 members of the government’s national security apparatus. Id. (The CIA’s process is reported to have been “more cloistered” and focused largely on Pakistan. Id.) Participants would examine Powerpoint slides of suspected Al Qaeda affiliates and debate their inclusion on the target list. Id. It could take five or six times for a name to be added, and, even then, the name would be removed if it was decided the suspect no longer posed an “imminent threat.” Id. Any names nominated for inclusion in the list would then be sent to President Obama for approval to be killed. Id. On May 21, 2012, citing anonymous officials, the Associated Press reported that this process has now changed. See Dozier, supra note 59. John Brennan, Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor, has reportedly established a new procedure for choosing which suspected terrorists will be targeted. Id. Brennan’s staff consults directly with the State Department and other agencies, thereby reducing the role of the Pentagon, and then compiles a potential target list based upon these consultations. Id. The list is “reviewed by senior officials” after being vetted by all counterterrorism agencies at the weekly White House meeting, and then ultimately sent to the President for approval. Id.

[52] Klaidman, Drones: How Obama Learned to Kill, supra note 52.

[53] For more on the role of Pakistani governmental authorities, see infra Chapter 4: Legal Analysis.

[54] See Brian Glyn Williams, Death From the Skies: An Overview of the CIA’s Drone Campaign in Pakistan, 29 Terrorism Monitor 8, 8 (2009); infra Chapter 2: Numbers.

[55] US Embassy Cables: Pakistan Backs US Drone Attacks in Tribal Areas, Guardian (Nov. 30, 2010),

[56] Shuja Nawaz, Drone Attacks Inside Pakistan—Wayang or Willing Suspension of Disbelief, 12 Conflict & Security 79, 80 (2011).

[57] Recent factual revelations in a book by a former Navy Seal involved in the operation that killed bin Laden suggest that the killing may have violated international law. According to the Navy Seal’s account, bin Laden was shot repeatedly in the chest, after already having been wounded. Mark Owen, No Easy Day 236 (2012) (“We saw the man lying on the floor at the foot of his bed. . . . The point man’s shots had entered the right side of his head. Blood and brains spilled out of the side of his skull. In his death throes, he was still twitching and convulsing. Another assaulter and I trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds. The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until he was motionless.”). Under international humanitarian law, attacking persons who are unconscious or wounded is prohibited, where they abstain from any hostile act. See Jean-Marie Henckaerts & Louise Doswald-Beck, International Committee of the Red Cross, Customary International Humanitarian Law: Vol. 1: Rules 47 (2006); see also Kevin Jon Heller, Author of “No Easy Day” Admits to Committing A War Crime, Opinio Juris (Aug. 29, 2012, 8:05 AM),

[58] See Thousands of Pakistanis rally against US, Express Tribune (Mar. 18, 2011), (noting that the release of Raymond Davis was “widely condemned among the Pakistani public and media” and that “anti-US sentiments rose after missiles fired from an unmanned US aircraft on Wednesday” killed civilians and police); US Drone Strike in Pakistan; Protests Over Bin Laden, Reuters (Mar. 6, 2011), (noting outrage against the US in response to the killing of Osama bin Laden); Karl Kaltenthaler et al., The Drone War: Pakistani Public Attitudes Toward American Drone Strikes in Pakistan 8 (Paper prepared for the Annual Meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association Meetings, Chicago, IL, Apr. 13-17, 2012) (describing the Salala incident as a “matter of huge public fury within Pakistan”), available at

[59] Interview with civil society representative in Peshawar, Pakistan (May 16, 2012); Interview with civil society representative in Peshawar, Pakistan (May 16, 2012).

[60] Pew Research Center, Pakistani Public Opinion Ever More Critical of US 2 (2012), available at

[61] Id. at 13.

[62] Id. at 10.

[63] David Kilcullen & Andrew McDonald Exum, Death From Above, Outrage Down Below, N.Y. Times (May 17, 2009),

[64] See Pakistan: Drone Strikes Are Violations of Sovereignty, Reuters (June 4, 2012),; see also infra Chapter 5: Strategic Considerations.

[65] See, e.g., Tony Karon, Why Musharraf Failed, Time (Aug. 19, 2008)(noting that, “Pakistan was forced to support the U.S.—or at least not stand in the way of its assault on Afghanistan.”), available at,8599,1833820,00.html; see also Daniel Schorn, Musharraf: In the Line of Fire, CBS News: 60 Minutes (Feb. 11, 2009)(noting that, “[t]he U.S. made it clear that [the Pakistani government’s] relationship [with the Afghan Taliban government] would have to end.”), available at

[66] See, e.g., Shuja Nawaz, Center for Strategic and International Studies, FATA- A Most Dangerous Place 9 (2009), available at

[67] See generally A. Rauf Khan Khattak, Fundamentalism, Musharraf and the Great Double Game in North-West Pakistan (2011).

[68] Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, Civilians in Armed Conflict: Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan 25 (2010), available at

[69] Brian Fishman, New American Foundation, The Battle for Pakistan: Militancy and Conflict Across the FATA and NWFP 5 (2010), available at

[70] Id. at 6 (citations omitted); see also Amnesty International, ‘As If Hell Fell on Me’: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan 39 (2010), available at (“[T]he Taleban aggressively moved to weaken the existing tribal structure by killing or intimidating tribal elders and government officials….Taleban forces also began to launch attacks against the government, those believed to support the government, and other political rivals.”).

[71] Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, supra note 83, at 15.

[72] Amnesty International, supra note 85, at 39; see Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012: Pakistan 1,5 (2012), available at (noting that “[t]he Taliban and affiliated groups targeted civilians and public spaces, including marketplaces and religious processions,” and they “regularly threaten media outlets over their coverage”); see also Salman Masood, Pakistani Taliban kills 22 Shiites in Bus Attack, N.Y. Times (Aug. 16, 2012),; Declan Walsh, Taliban Block Vaccinations in Pakistan, N.Y. Times (June 18, 2012),

[73] On the collaborative nature of the relationship between the Haqqani Network and the Pakistani state, see Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Haqqani Network Financing: The Evolution of an Industry (2012). On the collaborative relationship between Quetta Shura and Pakistan, see Matt Waldman, The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship Between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents (LSE Crisis States Research Centre Discussion Paper 18, June 2010), available at For a suggestion that there is a difference between full support and an effort to influence militant organizations, see Hussein Nadim, The Quiet Rise of the Quetta Shura, Foreign Pol’y (Aug. 14, 2012),

[74] Fishman, supra note 84, at 3.

[75] Pakistan: A Mosque Red with Blood, Economist (July 5, 2007),

[76] Syed Shoaib Hasan, Profile: Islamabad’s Red Mosque, BBC News (July 27, 2007),

[77] Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, supra note 83, at 9.

[78] Id.

[79] Human Rights Watch, supra note 87, at 1, 5.

[80] Amnesty International, supra note 85, at 49.

[81] Id. at 2.

[82] There are no large cities in FATA, and only 2% of the total population of Pakistan lives within the territory. The nearest large city is Peshawar, which lies just a couple of miles outside the western border of Khyber Agency. Islamabad is located nearly 200 km southeast of Peshawar; Lahore is just over 500 km southeast of Peshawar. The largest cities in FATA are Wana in South Waziristan, and Miranshah in North Waziristan.

[83] Anatol Lieven, Pakistan: A Hard Country 383 (2011). The ethnic group is sometimes also referred to as Pakhtun or Pathan.

[84] Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason, No Sign Until the Burst of Fire, 32 Int’l Security 41, 50 (2008).

[85] See, e.g., Angel Rabasa, Rand Corp., Ungoverend Territories 5 (2008) (testimony of Angel Rabasa at the Hearing Before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, S. Comm. On Nat’l Security & Foreign Affairs, 110th Cong.), available at

[86] Lutz Rzehak, Afghanistan Analysts Network, Doing Pashto 3 (2011), available at

[87] Id. at 2.

[88] Akhbar S. Ahmed, Millennium and Charisma Among Pathans 59 (1976).

[89] Palwasha Kakar, Tribal Law of Pashtunwali and Women’s Legislative Authority 4 (Afghan Legal History Project, Harvard Law School, 2004),

[90] Id. at 4; see also David Ignatius, Afghan Reconciliation Strategy Should Reflect Pashtun Culture, Wash. Post (May 16, 2010),

[91] Kakar, supra note 105, at 4.

[92] See, e.g., Rebecca Conway, The Battle Against Militancy in South Waziristan, Reuters (June 6, 2011), (“Pashtuns are also hospitable and protective of visitors. So persuading them to go after or hand over militants can be a daunting task.”); Honour Among Them, Economist (Dec. 19, 2006), (noting that the Pashtun duty of nanawatai or sanctuary requires that asylum be provided to “whoever requests it,” and relating the story of a Pashtun woman who provided such refuge to the killer of her own son).

[93] Administrative System, supra note 98 (“FATA . . . remains under the direct executive authority of the President (Articles 51, 59 and 247).”).

[94] Id. ( “Laws framed by the National Assembly do not apply here unless so ordered by the President.”).

[95] Wasseem Ahmed Shah, FCR Reform Process Should Not Stop, Dawn (Aug. 15, 2011), (“[T]hrough Article 147 of the Constitution, the superior courts have been barred from exercising jurisdiction in Fata.”).

[96] PAKISTAN CONST. art. 247.

[97] Administrative System, supra note 98 (“[T]oday, FATA continues to be governed primarily through the Frontier Crimes Regulation 1901. It is administered by Governor of the KPK in his capacity as agent to the President of Pakistan, under the overall supervision of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions in Islamabad.” (citation omitted)).

[98] Lieven, supra note 99, at 382.

[99] See Sherzaman Taizi, Jirga System in Tribal Life (2007), available at; Hassan M. Yousufzai & Ali Gohar, Towards Understanding Pukhtoon Jirga (2005), available at; see also infra Chapter 3: Living Under Drones.

[100] See Lutz Rzehak, Afghanistan Analysts Network, Doing Pashto 14 (2011), available at; Taizi, supra note 115; Yousufzai & Gohar, supra note 115.

[101] See generally Rzehak, surpa note 116; Taizi, supra note 115; Yousufzai & Gohar, supra note 115.

[102] Administrative System, supra note 98 (“[J]irga and Maliki systems are strong and powerful local institutions for the reconciliation and resolution of local disputes and even to punish those who violate the local rules and customs.”).

[103] Imtiaz Gul, The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier 49 (2010).

[104] Lieven, supra note 99, at 455.

[105] Anita Joshua, Pakistan: Undoing a Colonial Legacy, Hindu (Sept. 5, 2011), Reforms to FCR enacted in August 2011 included some increased scrutiny of the use of funds by political agents, but it will likely only affect the most egregious incidents of bribery. Under the Pashtunwali code, hospitality is a legitimate and vitally necessary element of the jirga. See Nasir Iqbal, Major Changes Made in FCR: FATA People Get Political Rights, Dawn (Aug. 13, 2011),

[106] United States Government Accountability Office, Combating Terrorism: The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (2008), available at

[107] See id.; Economy and Livelihood, Government of Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Area Secretariat, (last visited July 16, 2012).

[108] See Economy and Livelihood, supra note 123; Department of Minerals, Government of Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Area, (last visited July 16, 2012).

[109] United States Government Accountability Office, supra note 122.

[110] Id.

[111] Interview with Noor Behram in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 9, 2012); Interview with Dawood Ishaq (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 8, 2012).

[112] Tribal and Ethnic Diversity, Government of Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Area Secretariat,

[113] See James H. Stuhmiller, Borden Institute, Blast Injury: Translating Research Into Operational Medicine (2008), available at; see also Interview with Ejaz Ahmad, in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 2, 2012) (describing how the January 23, 2009 strike on his relatives “destroyed the entire house—it destroyed the hujra and the house was badly damaged. . . . [T]here was [a child] in the hujra as well.”); Interview with Rashid Salman (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012) (“The attack was on a hujra . . . there were women and children nearby. . . . Women, children, and men [died] . . .”).

[114] This characterization forms the title of a book on FATA by Imtiaz Gul. Gul, supra note 119.

[115] In rare instances, the Pakistani military does take prominent international journalists on one-day visits to the region. During such visits, access is restricted to pre-determined areas and journalists are under constant supervision, ostensibly for their own safety. See Interview with G.Z., journalist with major western news source (anonymized initials), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 7, 2012); Interview with K.N., journalist with major western news source (anonymized initials), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 5, 2012).

[116] See International Crisis Group, Pakistan: Countering Militancy in FATA 9 (2009), available at Our team had firsthand experience with the effects of curfews on mobility in FATA, as more than a dozen interviewees for this report were delayed by three days due to an unexpected curfew and reported fighting between the Taliban and Pakistani forces.

[117] Zulfiqar Ali & Muhammad Irfan, Measles Surge: North Waziristan Tribesmen Face Double Whammy, Express Tribune (May 13, 2012), (quoting Azmat Khan Dawar, a resident of Shahzad Kot in Datta Khel sub-district of North Waziristan, as saying: “despite the deteriorating condition of my [two-year old] daughter [who had measles], I was unable to take her to the hospital due to a curfew.”).

[118] See International Crisis Group, supra note 132, at 9.

[119] Id.

[120] For a discussion of how these challenges affected our research, see infra Methodology section.

[121] See, e.g., Amirza Afridi, FATA Journalists: The Forgotten Scribes of a Secret War, Express Tribune (Sept. 10, 2011),; Ikram Junaidi, FATA Journalists on Razor’s Edge, Dawn (Mar. 1, 2012), (“President [of the] Tribal Union of Journalists Safdar Hayat Dawar . . . alleged that both the military and Taliban forced mediapersons to file stories of their choice, adding [that] both didn’t care about human rights.”); Rahimullah Yusufzai, Pakistani Journalists Under Siege, Newsline (Feb. 29, 2012),

[122] See, e.g., Interviews with Medical Professionals in Pakistan (2012); see also Interview with Marwan Aleem (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012); Interview with Umar Ashraf (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 9, 2012); Interview with Ismail Hussain in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012); Interview with Umar Ashraf (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 9, 2012).

[123] M. Ibrahim, Tribesmen Condemn Taliban Killing of 70-Year-Old Baker, Central Asia Online (Feb. 21, 2012),

[124] Carol Grisanti & Mushtaq Yusufzai, Taliban-Style Justice for Alleged US Spies, MSNBC (Apr. 17, 2009),

[125] Id.

[126] See, e.g., Jane Mayer, supra note 40; see also infra Chapter 3: Living Under Drones.

[127] Interview with Umar Ashraf (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (2012); Interview with Khalil Arshad (anonymized name), in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 9, 2012); Interview with Hayatullah Ayoub (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 2, 2012); Interview with Noor Behram in Islamabad, Pakistan (Mar. 9, 2012); Interview with Ismail Hussain (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012); Interview with Mahmood Muhammad (anonymized name), and Sameer Rahman (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 29, 2012); Interview with Najeeb Saaqib (anonymized name) in Islamabad, Pakistan (Feb. 26, 2012).