Allegations of large numbers of civilian deaths have haunted the drone effort in Pakistan since its inception under President George W. Bush. Under the Obama administration, drone strikes have been at the core of the US strategy aimed at rooting out the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Pakistan's tribal areas, where militants have taken refuge to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
According to a report by Stanford, New York, and Columbia universities, the best available information from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggests that of the 2,500 to 3,000 people who have been killed since the first known drone strike in June 2004, anywhere between 450 and 881 were civilians, and another 1,300 people were injured. Those numbers are considered controversial because they rely on media accounts that often depend on the Pakistani government for information (reporters are not allowed free access to the tribal areas).
But Akbar holds up the 82 families hailing from North Waziristan as examples of the numerous nonmilitants who have lost their lives in drone operations – even as the Obama administration claims that the numbers are much lower and that civilian drone deaths have been rare since 2010.
The legal options
According to Akbar, civilians who claim to be victims of drone attacks have two options: either they can file charges against the CIA and the US government, or they can bring a case to the Pakistani authorities.
If it becomes provable that the US and Pakistan are not collaborating on the strikes, the general consensus in international law would be that US drone strikes are illegal, since there are "no UN resolutions, and the Americans have not declared war," says Akbar, regarding the first option.