The people of Waziristan are suffering a brutal kind of occupation under the Taliban and al Qaeda. Therefore, they welcome the drone attacks
There is a deep abyss between the perceptions of the people of Waziristan, the most drone-hit area and the wider Pakistani society on the other side of the River Indus. For the latter, the US drone attacks on Waziristan are a violation of Pakistani’s sovereignty. Politicians, religious leaders, media analysts and anchorpersons express sensational clamour over the supposed ‘civilian casualties’ in the drone attacks. I have been discussing the issue of drone attacks with hundreds of people of Waziristan. They see the US drone attacks as their liberators from the clutches of the terrorists into which, they say, their state has wilfully thrown them. The purpose of today’s column is, one, to challenge the Pakistani and US media reports about the civilian casualties in the drone attacks and, two, to express the view of the people of Waziristan, who are equally terrified by the Taliban and the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. I personally met these people in the Pakhtunkhwa province, where they live as internally displaced persons (IDPs), and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
I would challenge both the US and Pakistani media to provide verifiable evidence of civilian ‘casualties’ because of drone attacks on Waziristan, i.e. names of the people killed, names of their villages, dates and locations of the strikes and, above all, the methodology of the information that they collected. If they can’t meet the challenge, I would request them to stop throwing around fabricated figures of ‘civilian casualties’ that confuse people around the world and provide propaganda material to the pro-Taliban and al Qaeda forces in the politics and media of Pakistan.
I pose that challenge because no one is in a position to give a correct estimate of how many individuals have been killed so far in drone attacks. On the basis of American media estimates, 600 to 700 ‘civilian population’ have been killed. The Pakistani government, pro-Taliban political parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, Tehrik-e-Insaf, and the media are quoting the same figure. Neither the government of Pakistan nor the media have any access to the area and no system is in place to arrive at precise estimates. The Pakistani government and media take the figure appearing in the American media as an admission by the American government. The US media too do not have access to the area. Moreover, the area is simply not accessible for any kind of independent journalistic or scholarly work on drone attacks. The Taliban simply kill anyone doing so.
The reason why these estimates about civilian ‘casualties’ in the US and Pakistani media are wrong is that after every attack the terrorists cordon off the area and no one, including the local villagers, is allowed to come even near the targeted place. The militants themselves collect the bodies, burry the dead and then issue the statement that all of them were innocent civilians. This has been part of their propaganda to provide excuses to the pro-Taliban and al Qaeda media persons and political forces in Pakistan to generate public sympathies for the terrorists. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or other militants have never admitted to the killing of any important figure of al Qaeda or the TTP. One exception is the killing of Baitullah Mehsud that the TTP reluctantly admitted several days after his death. According to the people of Waziristan, the only civilians who have been killed so far in the drone attacks are women or children of the militants in whose houses/compounds they hold meetings. But that, too, used to happen in the past. Now they don’t hold meetings at places where women and children of the al Qaeda and TTP militants reside. Moreover, in this case too no one is in a position to give even an approximate number of the women and children of the terrorists killed in drone attacks.
The people of Waziristan are suffering a brutal kind of occupation under the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is in this context that they would welcome anyone, Americans, Israelis, Indians or even the devil, to rid them of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Therefore, they welcome the drone attacks. Secondly, the people feel comfortable with the drones because of their precision and targeted strikes. People usually appreciate drone attacks when they compare it with the Pakistan Army’s attacks, which always result in collateral damage. Especially the people of Waziristan have been terrified by the use of long-range artillery and air strikes of the Pakistan Army and Air Force. People complain that not a single TTP or al Qaeda member has been killed so far by the Pakistan Army, whereas a lot of collateral damage has taken place. Thousands of houses have been destroyed and hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed by the Pakistan Army. On the other hand, drone attacks have never targeted the civilian population except, they informed, in one case when the funeral procession of Khwazh Wali, a TTP commander, was hit. In that attack too, many TTP militants were killed including Bilal (the TTP commander of Zangara area) and two Arab members of al Qaeda. But some civilians were also killed. After the attack people got the excuse of not attending the funeral of slain TTP militants or offering them food, which they used to do out of compulsion in order to put themselves in the TTP’s good books. “It (this drone attack) was a blessing in disguise,” several people commented.
I have heard people particularly appreciating the precision of drone strikes. People say that when a drone would hover over the skies, they wouldn’t be disturbed and would carry on their usual business because they would be sure that it does not target the civilians, but the same people would run for shelter when a Pakistani jet would appear in the skies because of its indiscriminate firing. They say that even in the same compound only the exact room — where a high value target (HVT) is present — is targeted. Thus others in the same compound are spared. The people of Waziristan have been complaining why the drones are only restricted to targeting the Arabs. They want the drones to attack the TTP leadership, the Uzbek/Tajik/Turkmen, Punjabi and Pakhtun Taliban. I have heard even religious people of Waziristan cursing the jihad and welcoming even Indian or Israeli support to help them get rid of the TTP and foreign militants. The TTP and foreign militants had made them hostages and occupied their houses by force. The Taliban have publicly killed even the religious scholars in Waziristan.
I have yet to come across a non-TTP resident of Waziristan who supports the Taliban or al Qaeda. Till recently they were terrified by the TTP to the extent that they would not open their mouth to oppose them. But now, having been displaced and out of their reach, some of them speak against them openly and many more than before in private conversations. They express their fear of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan whenever speaking against the Taliban. They see the two as two sides of the same coin.
What we read and hear in the print and electronic media of Pakistan about drone attacks as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty or resulting in killing innocent civilians is not true so far as the people of Waziristan are concerned. According to them, al Qaeda and the TTP are dead scared of drone attacks and their leadership spends sleepless nights. This is a cause of pleasure for the tormented people of Waziristan.
Moreover, al Qaeda and the Taliban have done everything to stop the drone attacks by killing hundreds of innocent civilians on the pretext of their being American spies. They thought that by overwhelming the innocent people of Waziristan with terror tactics they would deter any potential informer, but they have failed. On many occasions the Taliban and al Qaeda have killed the alleged US spies in front of crowds of hundreds, even thousands of tribesmen. Interestingly, no one in Pakistan has raised objection to killings of the people of Waziristan on charges of spying for the US. This, the people of Waziristan informed, is a source of torture for them that their fellow Pakistanis condemn the killing of the terrorists but fall into deadly silence over the routine murders of tribesmen accused of spying for the US by the terrorists occupying their land.
The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org