Drone attacks: challenging some fabrications

By Farhat Taj    Daily Times 02 Jan 2010

 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.



Filed under Al Qaeda, Army, FATA, Media, North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, Taliban, USA, War On Terror

10 responses to “Drone attacks: challenging some fabrications

  1. Hayyer

    Is this a credible report?

  2. B. Civilian


    it is an ‘anecdotal’ report. here are the author’s credentials: 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 bergen34@yahoo[.]com

    i can second the findings from what i hear from the locals i get to speak to and by speaking to those who speak to the locals as part of their job. even in the media, despite the editorial line and anchors’ opinions, when locals are interviewed, they echo, indirectly, the views collated by dr taj. the only exceptions are known tribal mullahs with known affiliations. their views were no different during the lal masjid episode.

  3. Ron

    “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.”

    Actually for poor people of waziristan …..pakistan’s sovereignty means nothing…only their survivability.

    Infact….thats the case of poor people everywhere including India…..

  4. Vanguard

    nothing against the author, but I have read much better pieces by right wing nut jobs of Geo and Jang…even the random thoughts of Abdul Qadeer Khan (plagiarized and really random) are better written

    the way the article has been written, it seems that it is all based on hearsay.

  5. Iqbalk

    A rep of “Voices for Creative Non-Violence ” had traveled to Pakistan and spoke with people in the tribal areas. They told him that the drone strikes inflicted tremendous psychological distress upon the populace because the attacks could occur at any time. Hence, they must constantly be aware of whether drones have appeared in the sky, while ensuring that they can reach a place of relative safety. They must always be cognizant of their position in relation to their homes, their families, their fields and probable air strikes. Drones not only kill people, they eradicate any semblance of everyday life, disrupting its routines as well as opportunities for spontaneous play, surprise and affection. In effect, post-traumatic stress syndrome is interwoven into their lives, intensified with each passing day.”

  6. Milind Kher

    The drone attacks are killing far fewer innocents than the terrorist attacks. In fact, by largely killing terrorists, they are reducing their effectiveness.

    Yet, the fact remains that come collateral damage occurs. This cannot be written off as just collateral damage and a statistic. The answer is to have a stepped up offensive by the Pak army.

  7. Mustafa Shaban

    This report has no credibility. Drone Attacks killed 700 civilians and 14 Al Qaeda. Now tell me, will the US not try to protect its operations and image by giving the best picture they can give. So it is a good geuss that this is the best they could do. If drone attacks really worked than the Pentagon and military would be screaming favorable statistics over and over again to justify thier operations but they cant. I bet that even these figures are exaguerated. Also there are only 100 Al Qaeda and 10000 TTP in the region. No match for Pak Army.

    Also Drones and American F-16’s may have high level precision technology, but bombs still fall on wedding parties, schools, funerals and homes of innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq all the time. Israeli F-16’s hit UN schools. Drone attacks are no different. They are precise but just as damaging. There are only 1-5 terrorists among 100 people and the 5 terrorists are aimed at yet the explosion impacts everyone around it. The US doesnt send leaflets to the ground telling everyone to stay away from a certain place, its just drops the bomb.

    Also PTI is not pro Taliban and never was.

    Another thing is that Pak Army has almost won in South Waziristan and is dealing with the last of the TTP in that area. I do not see any ”occupation” of TTP in Waziristan.

    Farhat Taj himself said that the area is not open to credible or scholarly journalism so how can he say that the TTP bury the dead militants and declare them civilians? Are 2 year olds, 15 year olds and old men and women militants?

    I respect his opinion but he has some credbility issues.

  8. Bloody Civilian

    the affected civilians know better than anyone else that this is not a black and white issue. nobody wants to be be in a situation where one has to choose between the risk of being killed by terrorists or by a drone. or to have their daily lives ruled by extremists or blighted by the fear of drone attacks.

    yet, it is the people directly affected who are able to have the clarity to see the difference. to be able to choose between two different kinds of pain. patients of serious illness make the difficult choice, usually correctly and always bravely. Dr Taj has conveyed the fine balance accurately.

  9. Aliarqam

    Farhat Taj’s documentary on the dying culture of Waziristan under Taliban Reign of terror was much appreciated in a film festival at the US…..BBC urdu has reported it…..

  10. Anoop

    Ouch this must hurt. Drones turn out to be a saviour than a devil. Hmmm.. Let me think dont they kill the bad guys??? Aren’t they very,very accurate???
    No wonder the locals like them. I suggest expanding the drone strikes to Quetta and increasing the frequency of such strikes in Waziristan.