The worth of a Pakistani life

Published: September 30, 2011
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Pakistani politicians have caused the deaths of many people in Pakistan; do they believe that theirs lives are worth more that that of the ordinary Pakistani?

I was recently unsettled by a report I read from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – a private British non-profit organization based out of London. The unsettling report, states that 385 civilians have been killed by American drone strikes on Pakistan during the past seven years, including at least 168 children. One of the victims mentioned in this documented account, Din Mohommad, tragically lost a son, two daughters, and a nephew, with three of those children not old enough to go to school.

While looking for official US responses to the report, I wasn’t surprised when they employed the infamous ‘stick your head in the sand’ strategy by denying that any civilians were killed by drone strikes, even though the Bureau said that the accounts used to compile the report were verified by its field agents.

Upon looking for further US reactions to the account on the internet, I found that while speaking to CNN, an anonymous senior US official claimed that the numbers were way off the mark, and that at most, 50 Pakistani civilians had been killed in drone strikes since 2001, rather than the 385 claimed by the Bureau.

In this same CNN article, it says that in response to American claims of exaggeration, the editor of the testimony, Iain Overton, asserted that his sources were all credible and accused the Americans of disinformation:

“It is unfortunate that instead of engaging with our work, the CIA sees fit to smear it.”

Having absorbed all I could of the report from the internet, I turned to the television set, dreading what I would hear from our narcissistic politicians, who normally speak with the all the grace and subtlety of a bull dancing in a china shop.

And although I wasn’t surprised by any of the self-serving rhetoric from any of the Pakistani politicians speaking on the drone issue, one query for the United States government, which was synonymous amongst all of them, did strike a chord. The question, of course, was “Are the lives of our people worth less than the lives of yours?”

While it definitely is a question which I applaud for being raised, and would love to see US officials answer, when it is asked by Pakistani politicians, I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at the hypocrisy.  Allow me to explain. I live in an area in Karachi which is very close to a lot of politicians’ houses. Here, I see cars with government license plates, which are far more luxurious than the average citizen can afford, that are obviously paid for by taxpayer money. These cars can often be seen breaking laws by sporting tinted windows, speeding dangerously beyond the designated limits, often breaking red lights and thus putting civilians in danger. I also see important and popular public roads, like the one in front of the Saudi embassy, or near the house of Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, being shut down because of ‘security risks’, forcing drivers to risk their lives by taking less safe alternative routes late at night, and creating traffic hazards.

When I pass Dr Mirza’s house every day, I  see his house (like the homes of other politicians) protected by road blocks, several armored vehicles, and a group of at least 50 policemen and rangers. Now here is the thing.

Recently, Karachi was enveloped in ethnic violence, with citizens all over the city facing daily risks to their lives. TV coverage showed that the zones which were hit particularly hard by the violence were woefully under policed, with the cops and rangers in such areas lacking the numbers and equipment to protect ordinary Pakistanis, who were being robbed, raped, and mutilated.

Aside from that, residents from all sorts of localities can’t even find security in their own homes. Both my grandparents have had their homes robbed brutally several times. After each incident, the law enforcement has been late to show up, and frankly, it is partially because they are undermanned.

So here is my question to the hypocritical politicians of Pakistan, who currently have armies of uniforms meant for public protection, outside of their homes:

“Are your lives worth more than the lives of the average Pakistani citizen?”

In the end, I feel that as long as the leaders of Pakistan take away resources from their citizens to improve their own lives, they have no business asking US government officials whether the lives of Americans are worth more than the lives of Pakistanis. To me, it is no better than an elephant calling a pig fat.

At the very least, the casualties of war can be considered martyrs, when actual terrorists, who spread mayhem in Pakistan, are killed by hellfire missiles from drone attacks. But, how are our leaders improving our lives? Are the drones that lead us, really better than the drones striking targets in Waziristan?

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

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