In the lead up to Pakistan's general election, which will take place on May 11, the former cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan has again vowed to shoot down American drones if elected. Speaking at a rally in Swabi in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Khan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman said that if U.S. drones entered Pakistani airspace, he would order the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) to shoot them down. And given that most recent polls show Khan ahead of Nawaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) (previously thought to be the favorite) there is a very real chance that Khan will become Prime Minister.
Khan's vow may come as a shock to some, but opposition to America's drone war in Pakistan, which has been going on since 2004, has grown increasingly strong in recent years. Drone strikes have increased dramatically under President Obama, and while Pakistan has always been publicly opposed to attacks conducted by the CIA, the possibility of a prime minister who has promised to shoot down the drones could make things very awkward for the U.S.
Pakistan has previously said "that drone strikes are counter-productive, against international law, and a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity," a view that United Nations special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson, echoed in a statement back in March this year. Despite continued U.S. claims that the civilian death toll is minimal, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S. drone strikes have killed an estimated 3,000 people including hundreds of civilians. The Bureau has also accused the CIA of targeting and killing "dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals."
Khan has long been a fierce critic of the U.S. drone war in Pakistan, leading anti-drone protests and even being removed from a plane and detained by U.S. immigration officials for two hours on a trip to New York last year. According to Khan, he was "interrogated on [his] views on drones" while he was detained. His recent comments are also not the first time he has vowed to shoot down U.S. drones if elected; Khan made the same vow back in October 2012.
If Khan is elected as prime minister on May 11, it could make things very awkward for the Obama administration and may even put the continuation of its drone war in Pakistan in serious jeopardy. And he has a good chance of winning. As PolicyMic pundit Areej Elahi-Siddiqui points out, Khan's "credentials are strong, his rhetoric is even better, and most importantly, unlike many of Pakistan’s politicians, the track record for both him and his party, which he has nurtured carefully for the past 17 years, is clean."