Why should Obama apologise for Pakistani drone victims?

Published: April 25, 2015
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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?

No.

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

zafar.zulqurnain.sahi

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.