Hangu drone strike: Broken American promises, dead Pakistani citizens

Published: November 22, 2013
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If you awoke to find your entire street on fire and your loved ones dead, would you still applaud Uncle Sam’s valiant efforts to safeguard the globe? PHOTO: AFP

If you awoke to find your entire street on fire and your loved ones dead, would you still applaud Uncle Sam’s valiant efforts to safeguard the globe? PHOTO: AFP Eight people were killed in a drone strike in Hangu on Thursday within 24 hours of Sartaj Aziz’s statement assuring that the US would not conduct drone strikes during peace talks. PHOTO: AFP

Drones would be easier to understand if we were to put ourselves in the others’ shoes. Imagine you are a resident of FATA – a land which you probably feel is barely more than a colony of Pakistan. You are deprived of your most basic rights and facilities, such as education. You reside in a backward region still governed by the obsolete and inhumane Frontier Crimes Regulation, where the writ of the tribal code ‘Pukhtunwali’ is above all. It is not the easiest life, so you try to seek sanctuary at home.

Things seem to be okay until a trigger-happy cowboy sitting in Vegas and unable to point out Pakistan on a map sends a little drone your way, basing it on ‘intelligence’.

What would you do?

Within 24 hours of Sartaj Aziz’s statement assuring that the US would not conduct drone strikes during peace talks, eight people were killed in a drone strike in Hangu on Thursday. This drone strike opened up an entirely new dimension to our political and social arena. It was the first time a strike had been conducted in the ‘settled areas’ of the country and some consider it to be a clear indication of what is to come.

As a nation, there are certain things that I feel we must re-consider.

One of them is the now rapidly changing stance on drone strikes. I have seen it change from,

‘It is a breach of our sovereignty and must stop!’ to, ‘it is a breach of our sovereignty, but a necessary evil’.

With the ever-increasing terrorist attacks, especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, it is not hard to understand why we are an angry nation who want revenge and want it fast.

We must make sure, however, that in the process our own humanity is not lost; that we do not lose focus of what we are fighting for in the first place. Innocent lives are claimed by terrorists in Pakistan every day. One thing we cannot do is avenge these killings by taking more innocent lives.

The collateral damage in drone strikes is far too high and too big a factor to be ignored.

The death toll of these attacks is anywhere between 2,000 to 4,000, depending on your source; unofficially there are claims of far higher numbers. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) in London has said that civilian casualties in drone strikes are close to 1,000 although there are many unofficial sources that claim that the number is much higher. The same bureau released a report in 2011, saying that there were at least 168 children among the dead, 69 of whom had been killed in a single attack on a madrassa in 2006.

Oddly enough, the statistics provided by our own government say only 67 of the total killed to-date were civilians – a shockingly low number, given any previous report. The same report went on to state no civilian deaths occurred due to drones in 2012; one that was refuted by nine-year-old Nabila Rehman (among many other faceless, nameless ones) whose grandmother was killed in an October 2012 drone which injured eight other children. I would like to point out here that until Nabila and her family were highlighted, the media account of the drone strike declared that ‘several militants’ had been killed.

As convenient as it may be for most of us to paint a whole region with the same brush, here is news that might shatter some illusions: the entire population of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is not terrorist. Neither are the countless women and children who have died as a result of these drones. The inhabitants of the region want peace as much as you and I, and we cannot expect them to vacate their ancestral homes because of the miscreants living amongst them.

There is no doubt that drone strikes have killed a number of high-profile militants and, hence, caused setbacks to banned outfits such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). However, in the bigger scheme of things, they have caused us more damage than the benefit we have gained. The reason is this: in the fight against extremism which causally results in terrorism, there is no one tangible enemy.

It is a mindset that we are at war with.

There are many factions that have further embodied this mindset and have shed the blood of innocents across Pakistan, but the truth remains the same at the grass-root level. The indiscriminate killing of civilians by drones only promotes anti-state elements by inciting hate and further alienation among our residents. We are counter-productively sending ordinary civilians to join the ranks of the Taliban and are patting ourselves on the back for it. Hence, the argument that ‘we are willing to accept such high civilian casualties because it is reducing terrorism and saving innocent lives elsewhere’ also goes down the drain.

All we need to do is look around us.

Have suicide bombings decreased? If anything, we are probably adding to the bloodstains on our country’s hands.

Unfortunately, our own government has also been playing havoc with our minds for quite some time now. I, for one, cannot understand one thing: how does the government of a ‘sovereign’ state allow drone strikes to occur and then condemn them?

Either the strikes are authorised, which US Congressman Alan Grayson agreed with when he said they could ‘end tomorrow’ if Pakistan wanted and that they ‘would not be possible’ without the approval of the government. In this case, condemning them is actually senseless. Or the drone strikes are not authorised, violate human rights, are illegal by international law, are a clear breach of our sovereignty and prove that our leadership is shamelessly inept.

If the Pakistan Army wants to tackle the situation with selective force against factions that are at open war against us, I welcome that. However, I will not welcome an attack on the sovereignty of my people by Big Bad Uncle Sam from halfway across the world and neither will I be grateful to them for it!

Imagine if, after 9/11, the US was to invade Pakistan to seek revenge. Imagine if they wrecked your homes and killed your people, because the terrorists who attacked them were Pakistani. Would you consider it to be fair? You would not want to be held personally responsible for 9/11 because you are a Muslim or a Pakistani, right? Well, consider this a miniature of the same painting.

Honestly, shedding blood to prevent bloodshed does not make sense to me.

What the Taliban do is heinous, but if we continue to advocate this ‘kill them all’ mindset, how do we distinguish ourselves from them? It might be very comfortable for us to support a carpet-bombing policy while we are snuggled in the safety of urban centres, but to survive as a nation, we must empathise with the on-ground reality of our people and begin to view them as more than just statistics.

Hence, I would like to leave you with some questions, which you may answer truthfully or otherwise, as you wish.

Would you have a different stance on the issue if this was your neighbourhood being targeted?

If this was not far-flung Waziristan, which you are thankfully at a safe distance from, would you feel differently?

If you awoke to find your entire street on fire and your loved ones dead, would you still applaud Uncle Sam’s valiant efforts to safeguard the globe?

Why then, do we think that some lives matter more than others?

Danyal Adam Khan

Danyal Adam Khan

A freelance journalist, writer and actor, he tweets as @DanyalAdamKhan (twitter.com/DanyalAdamKhan)

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