For those who have seen drone attacks

Published: September 23, 2010
Email

Hgh value target like Baitullah Mehsud have been killed by drone attacks

Many believe Izzat Gul did not die a fair death in South Waziristan. ”When these infidels could not equal the valour of Izzat Gul, they most dastardly sent a drone to get rid of him. These hell seekers have also martyred two of his young children and his wife,” says Esar Mehsud, who joined the files of Taliban four years ago and has become a force to reckon with in his own right.

Amidst the political furore it is becoming increasingly difficult for the government to answer for the numerous drone attacks. Government officials remain tight-lipped when asked if drone attacks are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The most plausible answer the government has been able to furnish so far is that criminals, the Taliban and war lords who infest the tribal belt of the country have eroded the writ of the state and drone attacks are a potent force against them and serve as a deterrent against the Taliban who cannot match US technology.

Pakistan’s government has publicly condemned the attacks but has secretly shared intelligence with Americans and also allowed the drones to operate from Shamsi airfield in Pakistan. It is widely believed the attacks have tacit approval of Pakistani authorities. According to Farhat Taj, a member of AIRRA, drones have never killed any civilians and the stories surrounding civilian deaths are mere myths.

On June 23, 2009 a crowd in South Waziristan gathered to mourn the deaths of people killed in US drone attacks. Intelligence suggested that Baitullah Mehsud, the dreaded Taliban leader was among the mourners, so after the funeral prayers, two circling drones fired at least three missiles into the crowd. Around 45 militants and perhaps as many as 41 civilians were killed, but Mehsud survived. That was however, for the first time that establishment actually got the idea Americans were sincere in eliminating Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s enemy number one.

On 13 January 2006, the CIA fired missiles in Damadola in the Bajaur tribal area, about seven kilometres from the Afghan border, killing at least 18 people. Local authorities then claimed that at least four foreign members of al Qaeda were among the dead. US and Pakistani officials later admitted that no al Qaeda leaders perished in the strike. The attack purportedly targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, second-in-command of al Qaeda. The attack came after local warlords agreed to a truce.

“Everything looked settled till the fateful early morning strike when we were caught off guarded and hit below the belt,” says Esar Mehsud, who was present. He says that all hell broke loose and within seconds. “We saw dozens of local villagers martyred”

There has been a mixed response on drones emanating from FATA – not withstanding supporters who publicly applaud attacks. There are those who maintain that the use of Predators is completely illegitimate saying out of thousands of people killed only 17 were al Qaeda operatives and only 56 Taliban.

“Drones have killed two of my children, aged 7 and 9 and made my wife disabled,” said Rehman Gul an unemployed man from South Waziristan’s Azam Warsak area who now leads the life of recluse. He mainly counts upon alms given to him by the Taliban intermittently to make ends meet.

Remotely operated by pilots on the ground, Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) possess the ability to hover over a target for 40 hours. The pilot less aircraft was designed in the early 1990s and the motive for its development had been reconnaissance purposes. However the lethal idea to equip it with Hellfire missiles was floated by a US general in the mid nineties when he averred,” “I can see the tank. Now I’d like to see it blown up.”

Criticism is mounting over Washington’s refusal to say anything about missile strikes. US authorities are not open to counter militant allegations that only innocent civilians are dying and remain silent.

Americans have consistently improved upon drone technology. The newer, bigger Reaper UAVs boast a 3,682-mile range and a relative larger arsenal, including Hellfire and Sidewinder missiles and 500-pound laser guided bombs – a potent package that the Air Force is now training more pilots to fly from ground operations centres rather than from cockpits.

Recently the US Defence Department decided to release real images of drone attacks on Youtube that range from relatively detached wide shots of bombings taken by onboard cameras to startlingly graphic close-ups.

The move was criticised and termed no less sickening than the graphic videos and images posted by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US Defence Department came up with the answer that it had only joined the bandwagon after everyone else had joined that. The answer gave rise to new controversies.

Posting the real life images of drone attacks has provoked a mixed response. Some marvel at the new technology and discuss the paradigm shift in warfare. While some raise ethical questions and wonder if it is in America’s best interest to post such images in public the first place. The fact of the matter is posting what has been called drone porn, adds to the insensitivity of the lives lost in the attacks.

khubaib.usmani

Khubaib Usmani

A Punjab University graduate working with a public relations firm. After working for three years as an English Literature teacher at a private university he began work in a Pakistani think tank National Reconstruction Bureau as a media consultant. He writes on socio-political issues.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.