Pakistan by Izabella Demavlys.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake strikes southeastern Iran near border with Pakistan, killing at least 45 people.
Casualties on both sides of the borders in mostly rural areas.
Irfan Ali, a Pakistani activist who was killed on Thursday in a bombing, addressed a rally against sectarian attacks in September in Islamabad. [Photo via Ghalib Khalil]
Writing this has not been easy.
More than a 100 killed in two cities in a single day. Innocent Pakistani civilians, journalists, rescuers and police officers. The victims predominantly belong to the Hazara community and, by extension, the Shia population of Balochistan. One of the most relentlessly attacked targets of Sunni extremists, the Hazara community has suffered for the past 11 years and continues to find very little support from the authorities of Pakistan. Verbal condemnation is issued day in and day out but practically nothing has been done by the State to ensure the protection of the massively assailed minority. For perspective, it is important to remember that the persecution of the Hazara community is not a predicament native to Pakistan only; its complicated and gory history is linked back to Afghanistan. Some argue that the basis of the strife was a product of ethnic rivalry while others maintain that this is only another violent manifestation of Sunni extremism against a non-Sunni sect. The 18th century is noted to be one of the most oppressive periods pertaining to the bloody subjugation of the Hazara community under Amir Abdur Rehman Khan in Afghanistan; His rule resulted in the mass exodus of the Hazara people into present-day Quetta (Pakistan) and Mashad (Iran). Now in 2012, in Pakistan, over 900,000 Hazara live in the country - mostly in the southwestern province of Balochistan where the population is largely Shia. Touted as “heretics” by Pakistani extremist Sunni militants, the Hazara community of Pakistan remains under siege as victims of ethnic and, more obviously, sectarian violence. 375 Pakistani Shia Muslims have died in 2012 — the worst toll since the 1990s, human rights activists claim. With only eleven days into 2013, the future doesn’t seem too different for the Hazara of Pakistan.
But this is only a brief glimpse in the chaos that rattles Balochistan in specific and Pakistan in general. I want to talk about our selective outrage as Pakistanis. And before anyone objects, let it be known that I, too, am a Pakistani Muslim. This is only a plea, a request that we, as Pakistanis, look into ourselves.
I find US drone strikes deplorable; Anyone arguing in favor of missiles to “correct” the situation in Pakistan is dangerously mistaken because the performance of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remains unaffected by these “precise” and “surgical” strikes. If anything, these strikes have helped militants in recruiting more members for revenge. I find Western Imperialism disgusting. It goes without saying that the colonial and imperial powers of the West have destroyed the lives of countless human beings. I find Whiteness despicable; A social construct to silence and trivialize people of color is something no decent human being would concur with. At the same time, I find it extremely important for social growth that I criticize what is native to my country. I see very little of it coming from Pakistanis - living within the land or abroad, it rarely matters. I find the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies’ aggression and abuse of human rights unacceptable. For me, the disproportionate manipulation of religion and power by the State is reprehensible. I view the gross consumption of resources, aid, labor force and more by the Elite of Pakistan horrendous and pathetic. I have learned - with much unease and dismay - that we, as a people, will quickly run to the help of those oppressed outside of our borders. Which is not to say that transnational solidarity is wrong; Raising our voice and searching our pockets to help those under tyranny is something Pakistanis will never think twice before doing. We care, as a people, we truly care. But sometimes - and this is where my disappointment stems from as a citizen - our priorities are misguided. The debate whether this is because we have gradually become numb as a nation is an entirely separate one. Our home is on fire and our gaze is averted.
Let us understand two facts: Firstly, tyranny is Janus-faced. Secondly, the State cannot write these crimes under our names.
Power operates in various forms. USA remains, undoubtedly so, one of the top abusers of human rights and international laws. There is no questioning it. But that does not mean our criticism, as Pakistanis, of our local corrupt and complicit government(s) should soften. Our intelligence agencies assisted extremist factions like LeJ - Lashkar e Jhangvi, the same that attacked our fellow citizens yesterday, now closely allied with the Taliban - and later on the Government of Pakistan “banned” them but never really got to practically ceasing their operations. Sometimes - knowingly or not - we pick sides. Humeira Iqtidar deconstructs this fallacy of ‘picking sides’; Do we form an alliance with Imperialism against homegrown madness or do we support homegrown madness against Imperialism? Iqtidar denounces both and firmly asserts that Pakistanis can reject both forms of megalomania. This refusal to align with both forms of tyranny is essential to our progress and safety as Pakistanis - regardless of our religious, ethnic, social differences. We can reject external cruelty in the same way we can reject state-sanctioned brutality. Our selective outrage only weakens us. In many cases, it is our silence that kills us and our loved ones.
Furthermore, we must not allow our debauched, bribable and treacherous Government pass these atrocities off as incidents ‘normalized’ by us. We do not support the genocide of Shia Pakistanis or Shia Muslims or any minority anywhere. Our silence must not be appropriated by these groups and parallel states. Tomorrow I leave with my friends to protest against the attacks at Liberty Chowk in Lahore at 5PM. Our demand is simple: Arrest the killers, empower the oppressed. My pessimism tells me the State will remain unfazed - like it has all this time. My optimism tells me our unity will grow in numbers and in strength, and one day we will save our home from burning to the ground, our gaze will focus on what weakens our core.
There is hope. I see it in you all.
Photo: Young Pakistani girl holding a sign against US drone strikes.
- Total strikes: 350
- Total reported killed: 2,586 – 3,375
- Civilians reported killed: 472 – 885
- Children reported killed: 176
- Total reported injured: 1,252 – 1,401
- Strikes under the Bush Administration: 52
- Strikes under the Obama Administration: 298
Where are Obama’s tears.
“Mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts … These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” Every parent can connect with what President Barack Obama said about the murder of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut. There can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people of that town.
It must follow that what applies to the children murdered there by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them, no pictures on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, no interviews with grieving relatives, no minute analysis of what happened and why.
If the victims of Mr Obama’s drone strikes are mentioned by the state at all, they are discussed in terms which suggest that they are less than human. The people who operate the drones, Rolling Stone magazine reports, describe their casualties as “bug splats”, “since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed”. Or they are reduced to vegetation: justifying the drone war, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back”.
Like George Bush’s government in Iraq, Obama’s administration neither documents nor acknowledges the civilian casualties of the CIA’s drone strikes in north-west Pakistan. But a report by the law schools at Stanford and New York universities suggests that during the first three years of his time in office, the 259 strikes for which he is ultimately responsible killed between 297 and 569 civilians, of whom at least 64 were children. These are figures extracted from credible reports: there may be more which have not been fully documented.
The wider effects on the children of the region have been devastating. Many have been withdrawn from school because of fears that large gatherings of any kind are being targeted. There have been several strikes on schools since Bush launched the drone programme that Obama has expanded so enthusiastically: one of Bush’s blunders killed 69 children.
The study reports that children scream in terror when they hear the sound of a drone. A local psychologist says that their fear and the horrors they witness is causing permanent mental scarring. Children wounded in drone attacks told the researchers that they are too traumatised to go back to school and have abandoned hopes of the careers they might have had. Their dreams as well as their bodies have been broken.
Obama does not kill children deliberately. But their deaths are an inevitable outcome of the way his drones are deployed. We don’t know what emotional effect these deaths might have on him, as neither he nor his officials will discuss the matter: almost everything to do with the CIA’s extrajudicial killings in Pakistan is kept secret. But you get the impression that no one in the administration is losing much sleep over it.
Two days before the murders in Newtown, Obama’s press secretary was asked about women and children being killed by drones in Yemen and Pakistan. He refused to answer, on the grounds that such matters are “classified”. Instead, he directed the journalist to a speech by John Brennan, Obama’s counter-terrorism assistant. Brennan insists that “al-Qaida’s killing of innocents, mostly Muslim men, women and children, has badly tarnished its appeal and image in the eyes of Muslims”.
He appears unable to see that the drone war has done the same for the US. To Brennan the people of north-west Pakistan are neither insects nor grass: his targets are a “cancerous tumour”, the rest of society “the tissue around it”. Beware of anyone who describes a human being as something other than a human being.
Yes, he conceded, there is occasionally a little “collateral damage”, but the US takes “extraordinary care [to] ensure precision and avoid the loss of innocent life”. It will act only if there’s “an actual ongoing threat” to American lives. This is cock and bull with bells on.
The “signature strike” doctrine developed under Obama, which has no discernible basis in law, merely looks for patterns. A pattern could consist of a party of unknown men carrying guns (which scarcely distinguishes them from the rest of the male population of north-west Pakistan), or a group of unknown people who look as if they might be plotting something. This is how wedding and funeral parties get wiped out; this is why 40 elders discussing royalties from a chromite mine were blown up in March last year. It is one of the reasons why children continue to be killed.
Obama has scarcely mentioned the drone programme and has said nothing about its killing of children. The only statement I can find is a brief and vague response during a video conference last January. The killings have been left to others to justify. In October the Democratic cheerleader Joe Klein claimed on MSNBC that “the bottom line in the end is whose four-year-old gets killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror”. As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, killing four-year-olds is what terrorists do. It doesn’t prevent retaliatory murders, it encourages them, as grief and revenge are often accomplices.
Most of the world’s media, which has rightly commemorated the children of Newtown, either ignores Obama’s murders or accepts the official version that all those killed are “militants”. The children of north-west Pakistan, it seems, are not like our children. They have no names, no pictures, no memorials of candles and flowers and teddy bears. They belong to the other: to the non-human world of bugs and grass and tissue.
“Are we,” Obama asked on Sunday, “prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” It’s a valid question. He should apply it to the violence he is visiting on the children of Pakistan.
The West still tolerates the wounding and murder of children when it is done by the United States in the name of the war on terror.
In September, Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law released a joint study entitled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan.” (PDF)
Since 2004, the United States has used unmanned aerial vehicles or drones to make hundreds of attacks within northwest Pakistan, despite the nation’s protests. Drones have been heralded as being surgically precise in targeting terrorists while causing little “collateral damage.” Collateral damage generally refers to the maiming and killing of civilians.
The joint study declares, “This narrative is false.” The study was released after “nine months of intensive research,” including 130 interviews in Pakistan with victims as well as humanitarian and medical-aid workers. It also incorporates findings from an independent journalist organization based in London: the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).
According to TBIJ’s best estimate based on available data, from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, drone attacks in Pakistan killed 2,593 to 3,365 people; 474 to 884 were civilians, including at least 176 children. 1,249 to 1,389 people were injured. Evidence of other deaths is offered but not confirmed.
The study goes on to document the harm caused by drones even to uninjured people.
Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.
People have become fearful of gathering in groups, even for funerals or religious rites. The American habit of striking the same target multiple times has made rescuers and medical personnel reluctant to help the wounded. “Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school.”
Peter Bergen, a CNN reporter who is often on the ground in Pakistan, reported on the “efficiency” of the drone attacks. He wrote,
Since it began in 2004, the drone campaign has killed 49 militant leaders whose deaths have been confirmed by at least two credible news sources. While this represents a significant blow to the militant chain of command, these 49 deaths account for only 2% of all drone-related fatalities.
Meanwhile, there is evidence that the constant bombardment of largely civilian areas has led to a spike in recruitment into terrorist or extremist groups.
In a New York Times article entitled “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” investigative reporters Jo Becker and Scott Shane maintained,
Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”
In U.S. war films, the American soldier fighting in a strange land befriends a local child, creating a personal bond of humanity, while busily killing scores of the kid’s adult countrymen. American corporate media perform much the same sick exercise, identifying children among the “worthy victims” of the other side in U.S. foreign wars. Children deemed unworthy of American sympathy are left to the tender mercies of drones.