Why should Obama apologise for Pakistani drone victims?

Published: April 25, 2015

Did the prime minister, chief ministers or governors apologise? No.

On Thursday, April 23, 2015, United States President Barack Obama, apologised for the accidental killing of two western hostages – American national Warren Weinsteain and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto – in a drone attack in Pakistan.

“As president and as commander-in-chief, I take full responsibility for all our counter-terrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”

What did happen, though?

In a drone strike targeting an al Qaeda camp, the two aforementioned hostages were killed. These innocent civilians joined the long list of unfortunate civilian casualties tagged as collateral damage.

The multi-billion dollar drone project was lauded by US military and intelligence circles because there was no longer a need to risk human lives in aerial combat attacks. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) did not need a pilot to fly it. It could instead be flown via remote control from ground. It is quite remarkable how in terms of the benefits of a UAV, only US military and air force pilots qualify as “human lives”.

There is no ‘official’ estimate of exactly how many ‘collaterals’ have lost their lives to this technological marvel called drones. Some estimates are as high as 98% (50 civilians for one terrorist), an astounding figure. This may come as a surprise, since we have not seen a US president publically apologise for all these civilian casualties.

Had Obama apologised for every innocent civilian who lost his life in a drone strike, he would have spent most of his tenure making apology statements. In the absence of an accurate official figure, any figure is just a guesstimate. However, it is an admitted fact that there have been civilian casualties, many of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So why were these two lives worthy of an apology from the all-powerful US President? And why weren’t the lives of thousands (guesstimate) or even hundreds of Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani and Yemeni civilians as valuable?

The most convenient answer is the anti-US, hate-fuelling narrative – US hates Muslims and, in connivance with the Jews, plans on eliminating as many as it can. Well, there may be some merit in this theory, but I am afraid it is not the answer to all our questions.

By apologising for two, American and Italian, lives lost in a drone strike, did Obama discriminate against all the Muslim Pakistani , Iraqi and Afghan ‘collaterals’ that he did not apologise for?

Did he endorse that lives are more valuable in the West than they are in the East?

It is always more entertaining to peak through another’s window and find flaws, but far more productive to look in the mirror once in a while.

My instant response to Obama’s apology was – why doesn’t he apologise for all ‘accidental killings’ of my fellow Pakistani citizens in drone attacks? That got me thinking. Brushing aside all alleged conspiracy theories, I tried and looked elsewhere for answers. And pretty soon, I wasn’t that offended anymore.

What if I told you that the sanctity of a citizen’s life in the world depends on the value of his life within his state? What if Obama apologised not because the lives lost were not Muslim, Afghan, Iraqi or Pakistani, but because lives of citizens in Italy and US are more sacred than they are in our states?

Citizens in Italy or the US are not lynched or burnt alive by their fellow citizens on a routine basis. They are not shot at and killed, by state law enforcement agencies, in municipal operations for the removal of barricades. People in the West cannot publicly and confidently side with murderers on the pretext of religious freedom and divinity.

The absence of an apology from the US president may have offended me, but then the president of Pakistan never apologised for the loss of 14 Pakistani lives in Model Town Lahore at the hands of the Punjab Police. Pertinent to note, the police wasn’t even hunting terrorists; they were only trying to aid the local administration in the “removal of barricades”.

My president did not apologise for the death of 83 innocent infants in the District Headquarter Hospital of Sargodha due to lack of medical facilities. Facilities that could have been provided to the hospital with allocated funds instead of the metro bus we invested in instead. Neither did he apologise for the death of an infant while his parents searched for a ventilator in Faisalabad, and for the other 2,136 children who died due to the lack of facilities in just one hospital of Faisalabad.

My president did not apologise for failing to protect his citizens from being burnt alive, on more than once occasion. He did not apologise for all the men, women and children who died of starvation in Thar.

But then again, our president is powerless. And if great power begets great responsibility, no power should bring no responsibility.

So did the prime minister, chief ministers or governors apologise?


And here we are, expecting Obama to apologise for lives that we have, by implication, ourselves declared dispensable.


Zafar Zulqurnain Sahi

A Lawyer by profession. A Gold Medalist in LLB from Punjab University and has a LLM degree from University of Warwick, UK. He is also a former Member Provincial Assembly of Punjab (2008-2013). He tweets @ZafarSahi (twitter.com/ZafarSahi)

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

  • woody

    Obama has repeatedly expressed regrets for any innocent Pakistani lives lost during drone attacks – I suppose that doesn’t get much press coverage in Pakistan. In this case had Obama known their were hostages he likely would have sent in a Seal Team to attempt a rescue – even though those hostages were being held in Pakistan. Had he done that I suppose the author would have written a blog about America violating Pakistan sovereignty. Lastly – if Pakistan didn’t allow terrorist sanctuary there would have never been drone strikes in the first place.Recommend

  • Queen

    Until we don’t start giving value to the lives of our fellow citizens in our own country, we cannot expect others to offer apology or condolence when our citizens get killed.Recommend

  • Xpecialist

    Nice try with smooth talk but – in diplomatic and official parlance, “regret” is not same as “apology” because with an apology comes the inherent acceptance of guilt/responsibility for the act, while regret is just that – an expression of sorrow, nothing more.
    And as far as “if Pakistan didn’t allow terrorists sanctuary….” wow! if to look through your simplistic vision of events, then we can also that if US had not armed, trained and supported the Afghan terrorists back in 80s, Pakistan wouldn’t be in this mess today.Recommend

  • SayWhaaa!!

    That is ridiculous, the US president doesn’t apologize for the current spat of police shooting and killing unarmed black men, or the literally thousands of lives lost due to gun violence in America. He calls for investigations and trials, calm down. Your writing reeks of PTI propaganda Metro buses, model town, when the problem is nationwide. Personally, I don’t care what some guy thousands of miles away apologizes for or not. The things you pointed out are what comes with being a third world country, unless our economy improves and the people become more educated these things will happen. Its sad but this is just the way countries and civilizations develop.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    He’s comparing apples to oranges. How does negligence in the examples he gave of Nawaz Sharif compare with direct kills?Recommend

  • Zafar Z. S.

    really? apples and oranges? One is a situation where Obama apologizes for loss of two lives in a drone strike: an action carried out by CIA (A US state institution). Other is where our President or PM doesn’t apologize or even learn from the inaction or action of his State institutions that results in loss of many lives.
    So it is not the State’s fault or responsibility just because it wasn’t a “direct kill” that killed thousands of kids, EVERY YEAR, at a hospital, because it lacked medical facilities?
    Sir you should head ALL the ‘inquiry commissions’ :)Recommend

  • Zafar Z. S.

    lol @ “PTI propaganda”.Recommend

  • G. Din

    What cheek! It is Pakistan which benefited by enthusiastically owning the war against Soviets. It is Pakistan which increased the number of madrassas to fulfil the demand for Taaliban in that war. And, now when you are hit by the repercussions, you conveniently pass the blame to US. You opted to serve America’s purpose. Nobody put a gun to your head. You could have refused to toe America’s line. But, you saw the opportunity for an easy dollar to be made. That has always been the bane for Pakistan ever since its creation. You took on the membership of Baghdad Pact and then CENTO and SEATO, not to fight the Soviets as you were sup[posed to, but to get free arms to pursue your own anti-Indian agenda. That you failed every time is not the fault of anyone but your own foolishness.Recommend

  • Xpecialist

    AAh I see – as usual The dollar jihad of 80s was a marriage of convenience for both countries – Pakistan saw easy $$ while for US it was a lifetime chance to get back at Soviets for Vietnam drubbing. But it was US initiated concerted efforts to brainwash Muslim youth from worldover to provide cannon fodder for its $$ jihad against Soviets. Western media coined such terms as Soldiers of God, freedom fighters, brave afghan warriors etc to lure those idiots. Those madrassas had already started sprouting up in 80s with US-Saudi funded $$.

    What’s wrong with acquiring arms to counter Indian hegemony? You guys sat in the Soviet lap suckling onto the communist teats till it’s death and acted as its extension arm in the region and fomenting trouble in all neighboring countries including Pakistan, China, Sri Lank etc. Take a look in the mirror at your own ugly face before trying to act innocent and pointing fingers at others.Recommend

  • Rohan

    the thing only we have to condemn is Pakistan hiding al Qaeda and Taliban members.If Pakistan thinks these are good terrorists then Pakistan deserves dronesRecommend

  • neat

    No regrets for the innocent children?Recommend

  • siesmann

    You entirely discount the real threat to Pakistan that soviets posed from Afghanistan.Pakistan would have been next if US had not intervened/helped.And would you also not give credit to USA for helping liberate many Islamic republics that the break-down of USSR entailed?And if Muslim youth choose to be brain-washed by US/SA/and then Pakistani mullahs,the responsibility lies with them.And the brain-washing by mullahs continues even today,as is pretty clear from your comments.Stop believing in mullah-mutated history that is being taught in Pakistan.Recommend

  • siesmann

    The comparison is between the Taliban killing Pakistanis with intent to kill and deliberately and specifically targeting people in crowded places(that is direct killing and hundreds of times more than drones might have killed),and USA killing those Taliban(direct killing) and having unintended consequences of innocent killed.(indirect and collateral).When has Taliban(and their mullah sponsors) shown regret ,much less apologize for their actions.?Recommend

  • Xpecialist

    There you go! you have no clue about geopolitics of the region but just love to chime in with their bits of wisdom.

    First educate yourself about the history of relations b/w Soviets and Afghans throughout 50s & 60s and the increasing level of Soviet & US involvement in Afghan politics to exert greater control. This “Pakistan was next” was just a rallying cry coined by Zia regime to rally public support for the dollar jihad. There was never a Soviet desire/plan to march into Pakistan.

    Credit to US for liberating Islamic reps? What credit? Us was only interested in bleeding the Soviets to death in Afghanistan, they could care less about “liberating the Islamic republics”, where did you get your primary education in geopolitics?

    And yes, the responsibility lies with the brainwashed, glory seeking and/or dolloar hungry religious zealots for fallint into the trap laid down by US – that’s what I implied in my post, but it does not absolve US of creating the jihadi mess in the region.

    “Stop believing in mullah-mutated history that is being taught in Pakistan” You obviously couldn’t understand what I wrote in my earlier post – hence the lable “pseudo intellectual” for you!Recommend

  • Justicleague

    Pakistani life has much less worth than an American, British, Italian, French, etc. life. Hence, no regrets when Pakistanis, Iraqis, Afghanis, etc. lose their lives. At most, they justify it with fancy terms like ‘collateral damage’. #WesternHypocrisyRecommend

  • JusticLeague

    Oh wow. ‘Pakistan would have been next if US had not intervened/helped’ That’s right, US actually created the Taliban that they called Mujahideen (warriors). I am sure US also ‘helped’ Iraq when they bombed it, killing 500, 000 people (conservative estimates) without any evidence of nuclear enrichment. US also ‘helped’ Vietnam by killing numerous innocent civilians. Who can forget the My Lai Massacre. Oh and speaking of the atomic bomb and responsible nations. Who is the only nation to have dropped that atomic bomb? Hmm…US dropped that on Hiroshima and Nagasaki back in the day. Stop believing in western indoctrination and start listening to the counter-narrative too. Maybe, listen to one on the wisest of your own named Noam Chomsky. #WesternHypocrisyRecommend

  • siesmann

    Well USA at least admits its mistakes,and tries to improve,whereas Pakistanis like you believe on spinning and beleivng conspiracy theories.Recommend