Right now the world focus is on ISIS, killing, beheading and recently bombardment over the alleged Khorasaan camps in Syria. The world has almost forgetten about the Af-Pak bordering region still at war with missile laden drones in the skies. Pakistan military is at war with AlQaeda, receiving hundreds of causalities with displacement of about a million population in North Waziristan.
This August in Kabul, Afghanistan a three star general has been gunned down at a military training academy. Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the first United States Army general killed in an overseas conflict since the Vietnam War. The killer later identified as Rafiullah from Paktia. He spent more than two years being an Afghan soldier. Rafiullah belongs to Jani Khel tribe living in Paktia and North Waziristan on both sides of the Af-Pak border. It is not for the first time that a security personal working under US and Nato command hit them inside. Most of the analysts who are well aware of the regional affairs would tell you that it was not unexpected.
“What the west thought of just carrying night raids, pounding tons of bombs over Afghan civilians. They accept they trained terrorists, nurtured them and then left them. They accepted civilian causalities in the war on terror in the region. The most lethal so far proven to them are the killings in drone strikes in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does nothing but create more terrorists, reactionaries with radical minds. I am surprised the west is just ignoring this bloodshed by offering – sorry it was collateral damage. None of the fathers, none of the mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters will ever accept this in this region which has a record of history at war, ” expressed Professor Mian Unwan-Ud-Din, an expert on regional affairs and a known columnist.
I had spent New Year’s night in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. It was a cold morning in January 2006. Some weeks prior, on November 2005, a drone had hit a house at Patisi Adda in Mir Ali, killing an Egyptian Al Qaeda commander, Abu Hamza Rabi. I was standing right in the middle of rubble left after the attack with a 12-year-old child, Sadiq Shah, the only local resident and eyewitness who survived the attack.
He told me then how Abu Hamza Rabi was killed in his house. Sadiq had survived because the pillar above his head stopped the roof from crushing him. To him, Al Qaeda was fighting against infidels. What is Al Qaeda? Who was Abu Hamza Rabi? Why did the drones kill his cousins? Sadiq had no idea. The bottom line was, in the throes of post traumatic stress he confirmed the death of Abu Hamza Rabi, along with some of his cousins ages 3 to 7 years. I felt the element of anger, hatred and the Pashtun tribal feeling of “badal” or revenge deep inside Sadiq.
This was the first ever, and the biggest confirmed attack on any Al Qaeda leader in North Waziristan and it led to the death of a local journalist, Hayatullah, in North Waziristan in 2006. He was picked up soon after the attack and a few months later his bullet-ridden body was found in Mir Ali. Did all drone attacks have the same results? Today, even some western journalists believe that drones are counterproductive in most cases. The UN teams confirmed the deaths of several civilians in drone attacks. These causalities proved to be fatal for US troops stationed on the other side of border.
There are three basic elements of Pashtun cultural codes that are directly related to these drone attacks. The first one is “peghoor” which rebukes a youth and is related to the second code of “ghairat” or honour which pushes a youth to the third code of “badal” or revenge. One cannot rule out the element of “badal” from Pashtun society. Whether it is Pakistani troops, Afghan or the Coalition forces, all of them have faced this code as a result of their actions in this region. Those who lost kin in this so called war on terror faced “peghoor”, a kind of insult that reminds someone of his loss.
To my mind, “peghoor” is the most dangerous term in a tradition-bound Pashtun society that leads to badal or revenge. It can take hundreds of lives even in times of peace. Some people ask if it is religion that gives birth to militancy, resistance and suicide bombing, or is it this code of “ghairat” or honor in tribal society. I would say the tribal mindset has been hijacked or misused by certain people for their own interests. If you study the background or the mindset of a suicide bomber you will realize that they are not likely to have much knowledge of Islam.
Most training camps use such propaganda material which contains images challenging their honor on each side of the border. Images of drone strikes show the deaths of women and children and US marines insulting them in Afghanistan. Let me recount the barbarism of one real drone attack.
The New American Foundation is a platform which offers research on drone strikes. It is considered a reputable institution on counter insurgency. It says that a drone hit the militant commander, Khwaz Wali, which was aimed at Baitullah Mehsud on 23 June 2009 in South Waziristan. It estimates that two to six militants were killed in this attack. The same foundation reports another attack on the same day in South Waziristan which hit the funeral of Khwaz Wali Mehsud and killed 40 to 80 people. It reported on 35 to 45 civilian deaths too, among the 33 deaths of the “unknown”. The research also reported that among the dead was “Mullah Sangeen, the Afghan commander of Tehrik-i-Taliban (although he had been killed twice already according to earlier reports) and the assumed target was Baitullah Mehsud. These details are available here:
Fortunately, I was with a group of journalists in Dera Ismail Khan at the time, which has become a hub of Mehsud tribesmen who left South Waziristan due to the military operation in their hometown. All the major networks, both national and international, were running breaking news and headlines of militants killed in these strikes. But the ground situation was just like doomsday for local Mehsud tribesmen. The injured of that drone attack still live in Tank and can tell you what happened on 23 November 2009 at around five o’clock in Malegai Tangi area of South Waziristan.
Eyewitnesses confirm the deaths of 123 people in all, most of them children, the elderly and local youth. They confirm the death of Khwaj Wali Mehsud, a man mentioned by New American Foundation. Who was Khwaj Wali? He was not even a commander but due to the extreme social pressure of the Taliban in his area, he helped them. What was he doing for them precisely? He was establishing a fighting post for the Taliban in the area close to his home, so he was correctly targeted. What happened in the next attack? The Taliban, knowing the modus operandi of the drone strikes, asked local people to offer his funeral prayers in a separate area where mostly Shobi Khel, a sub-tribe of Mehsud lived.
The fact is that Baitullah was also a Shobi Khel. Everybody who has some knowledge of tribal society knows that mostly fathers and elders take children to funerals to make them accustomed to attending a social obligation. Anyone can confirm this information by visiting Tank or contacting local officials. Many of the people killed were just nine-year-old children. Some of them were students of Shaheen Model Public School, Maligai, South Waziristan. Their records are still available at the school. They include Noor Zaman aged 8, son of Gul Zaman, Yasba aged 9, son of Pashin Khan, Ghani aged 9, son of Madazar, Mohammad aged 9, son of Kandahor, Khalid aged 11, son of Bismali, Daro Khan aged 11, son of Fareed Khan, Haider Ali aged11, son of Gul Nawab, Najatullah aged12, son of Noor Wali, Abdul Qadar Khan aged13, son of Gul Mohammad Khan, Naeem Gul aged13, son of Amal Jan, Saidmanullah aged14, son of Shah Saleem, Fazle Najar aged14, son of Taleem Khan, Zafran aged14, son of Mohammad Anwar, Mayn Khan aged14, son of Nawal Khan and a lot more. At least 18 members of one family were killed in that drone strike.
Can anybody imagine the feelings of their parents? Add to this the element of “badal” in Pashtun culture? Remember Sadiq Shah of Mir Ali, the 12-year-old child who lost his cousins in the drone attack back in 2005. Now he must be around 21 years of age. In the short span of seven years, the US and its coalition partners are facing the crop that they sowed back in 2005. Sadiq Shah, now 22, has become an asset to Al Qaeda. He was supposed to be one of the best logistical supporters of the Al Qaeda linked Taliban in the region. A young, good looking and energetic man, today his life is completely charged with “badal” or revenge, involving him in the coordination and transportation of foreign fighters in the region.
Two years back, he disappeared. He might still be fighting somewhere or he may have been killed, but he is missing. His mother, back at home, still waits for him. She had dreamed of his marriage and her grandchildren. Sometimes, she cries in anger when someone tries to console her by saying she will meet her son in heaven. She is just a mother. She doesn’t understand the “War on Terror”. She doesn’t know about New York or understand what 9/11 was about, she is tired of these drones hovering and hissing in the skies above their house. Sadiq Shah’s mother lives in Mir Ali in a house made of clay with a wooden door that always remains open in the hope of Sadiq Shah’s return.
Likewise, in Tank the injured still bear the scars on their body of the drone attack over the funeral procession on 23 June 2009. They are still in a state of silence and looking for answers to the many questions in their mind about the attack and this so-called war. Those among them who lost their children can still not bear to talk about it. When asked about their feelings, they just stare blankly into your eyes as if asking, ‘Why don’t you know?’ Most of them have kept their silence. Some among them believe that the military – of the US or our own – the CIA and our own intelligence agencies, Al Qaeda and the Taliban, are part of the same game.
These are not armies or groups fighting against each other but they are fighting against the local residents, to create an environment of war. But there are some who will tell you: ‘It’s their turn now, a day will come when we will be in a position to settle the score’. The feeling of “badal” or revenge is not limited to the US but is aimed at all those people who aided in the massacre of their loved ones.
There is a saying in Pashto that if you wait for a thousand years to take revenge on your enemies, that too you do in hurry. There are certain reports that due to personal grudges against each other the local community spied on each other, even during the ground intelligence information gathering before drone attacks. The incident of drone attack on a funeral cortege in South Waziristan is not an isolated incident but one story amongst hundreds of other such drone attacks that kill and maim innocent people.
According to New American Foundation, a drone hit a gathering in Datta Khel, 15 miles from Miram Shah, the headquarter of North Waziristan on 17 March 2011. The Foundation’s website says, ‘Total Killed: 38-45, Militants Killed (-) Civilian: 7, Unknown: (Contradictory reports whether targets were Taliban or civilian), Assumed Target: Meeting of fighters from Hafiz Gulbahadar group planning attacks in Afghanistan’.
The real situation, as reported by the local administration and confirmed and accepted by Islamabad, was that there was a dispute over a hill located in Madakhel, a sub-tribe of the Wazir tribe. The local Madakhel tribe convened a Jirga and local officials of the political administration were invited to it when drones hit them, killing 45 innocent people on the spot.
Shockingly, an influential malik and political figure, Malik Dawood, was also among those killed. He was a member of the local council introduced by former General Pervez Musharraf. Again, the local and international media carried breaking news and headlines of a militants’ gathering in North Waziristan being attacked.
But the tragic loss of life was unbearable. Some local residents approached me with evidence and I approached Orla Guerin of the BBC. She came straight from Islamabad and met with the affected people. She reported the story and after investigation, the truth was unearthed and accepted by the government. This was the first time in the history of drone attacks that the Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa distributed compensation cheques among the affected people. There is only one reason for this strike: Hafiz Gul Bahadar is from Madakhel tribe.
The drones have left no one unaffected. Not even government primary school teachers. According to New American Foundation, it reported the death of a teacher with his son in a drone strike on 3 January 2010 at Mosaki village in North Waziristan. Let me tell you that the teacher was killed along with his 9-year-old son Wajid Noor. Another government school teacher, Akbar Zaman, was killed in a drone attack at Tappi, North Waziristan on 8 January 2010. Anyone can visit the website of New American Foundation for a confirmation here:
I won’t say that drones have not killed militants. But was that worth taking hundreds of other lives? Was there no other alternative? North Waziristan is an area where there is no major war or military offensive going on. They could have used assassins with precise ground intelligence to find militants without indiscriminately bombarding areas and causing civilian causalities. Such attacks are helping create dozens of suicide bombers, including young girls and women. These attacks are also creating local facilitators, collaborators and sympathizers against those who are supporting or siding with this senseless war on terrorism.
I wonder whether the US led Nato and the west are still groping in darkness to find out why it all happened to the slain general and the rest.
This is what Bush and Musharraf, the former Pakistani Presedent sowed and, like after the Cold War, there will be many years of reaping.