If one were to put a date on which terrorism in it’s present form came to Pakistan, it would be the 30th October, 2006. On that date, the CIA operated unmanned predator drones launched missiles at a madrassah in village Chenagai in Bajaur. The destructive power of missiles developed by the richest and militarily most powerful nation in the world had been unleashed upon a school in perhaps the poorest and most underdeveloped region of the world.
An eyewitness stated that the madrassah was filled with local students who had resumed studies after the Eid-ul-Fitr holidays. 82 of them were killed besides hundreds being grievously injured. A few months earlier, four Hellfire missiles had been launched at a village called Damadola in the same tribal agency on the basis of shoddy intelligence to the effect that Al Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri was in the village. He wasn’t there, but at least 18 persons, including 5 women and 5 children were killed. US officials later admitted that no Al Qaeda members perished in the strike and only local villagers were killed. The reaction was instant and it was furious.
Following the attack on the madrassah in which 82 school children had been killed, a suicide bomber killed 42 Pakistani soldiers and injured 20 others in Dagai, less than 100 miles north west of Islamabad on November 8, 2006. The war had come to Pakistan.
How did the US react to this tragic loss of innocent lives? Two days after the Damadola attack, US politicians expressed regret over the deaths caused by the attack, but said the attack were justified (emphasis mine). US senator John McCain was quoted as saying, “It’s terrible when innocent people are killed, we regret that, we apologize, but I can’t tell you that we wouldn’t do the same thing again”.
Drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan have consistently been condemned in Pakistan where they cause outrage on account of civilians deaths including these of women and children. A report by the Brookings Institution says the illegal strikes cause 10 civilian deaths for every militant killed. This figure is disputed by Pakistani sources, who claim that US drone strikes kill some 50 civilians for every militant killed.
On October 27, 2009 UNHRC investigator Philip Alston criticised the US refusal to respond to the UN’s concerns about the use of drones on the Afghan border. He said, “Now you have the really problematic bottom line, which is that the CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws’.
Despite the absence of any sanction in international law for these killings, the use of this lethal weapon is increasing. From 2004 to 2007, 9 drone attacks were carried out in which 112 persons were killed. There were 33 strikes in 2008, 53 in 2009, 118 in 2010 and 24 to date in 2011. A total of 2502 persons have been killed. Add at least 10,000 seriously injured having lost limbs etc. If the Brooking Institution report is correct, 90 percent of these casualties i.e. 12502 were innocent civilian men, women and children.
I, for one, have no doubt that the American people would be as outraged as Pakistanis if they were not deluged with unrelenting propaganda about tribesmen in caves in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, planning a nuclear attack on the homeland and how it’s not a question of “if ” but “when” it will happen. Otherwise how can a nation which was galvanized into a massive anti war movement by one video of a young victim of the My Lai napalm strike, choose to ignore the death and disability of thousands of poor, innocent men, women and children who had done no harm to a single US citizen?
We are not taking the position that the US military and administration are wantonly cruel and bloodthirsty. But there is certainly an inexplicable and avoidable insensitivity to a grave and continuing human tragedy.
This insensitivity manifests itself with depressing regularity. In March 2011, a CIA contract agent, Raymond Davis shot and killed two young men in one of the busiest commercial localities of Lahore. This sparked a frenzy of condemnation and outrage in Pakistan with the government being accused of contriving the release of a US covert operator. The government was stoutly denying any role and claiming that the law of the land had taken its course, and Davis had been released after payment of a substantial amount as blood money, implying that the US authorities had paid up. At this stage, in jumps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and declares that the US did not pay the compensation, thereby severely embarrassing the Govt. of Pakistan which had struggled long and hard to meet the American demand for releasing it’s agent, while at the same time trying to do it in a manner which avoided too much domestic fallout. What did the US gain by making this statement? Nothing. What did the Govt. of Pakistan lose? Its credibility and its fig leaf with its own media and society. And to make matters worse, the CIA on March 17, 2001 just one day after the release said thank you with a controversial drone attack which reportedly killed 40 people.
A replay of this scenario occurred just last week when a drone attack took place (killing 25 including 3 women and 5 children, and injuring dozens) within hours of Pakistan’s Director General ISI return from a visit to the USA on April 11 which was an endeavour to mend fences in a relationship which was becoming increasingly bitter.
As I write this, the media is reporting a fresh drone strike in North Waziristan today (Apr. 22) in which at least 25 people, including women and children have been killed.
Small wonder that Pakistan’s Army Chief declares Pakistan the most bullied American ally. Small wonder that we love to hate the Americans.