Drone attacks will lead to inevitable blowback in Pakistan

US Politics
on 14 Comments

 “I will never forget what the American soldiers did to my country, my tribe and my family. They violated our national sovereignty and our Islamic laws. They killed my son and my younger brother. They destroyed my home. If I see the soldiers who are responsible for this – if I have the opportunity — I will kill them.” (translated from Pashto)

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Kareem Khan

These are the chilling words of Kareem Khan, a Pakistani journalist from a tribe in Northern Waziristan, whose compound was destroyed by a Hellfire missile from an American drone on Dec. 24, 2009. They starkly illustrate the concept of “blowback.” What you sow today, you will reap tomorrow — in this case, hatred and a desire for revenge born from shattering personal loss and a tribal code (called Pashtunwali, or “way of the Pashtuns”) that dictates a simple recipe for justice: eye for an eye.

To a large extent, this equation explains the intense and ongoing anger over the movie trailer that denigrated the prophet Mohammed. The video by itself would not have produced anger that is so sustained. The Western world’s disrespect of the Islamic culture is perceived to be – often justifiably so – long and broad. In Pakistan, anti-American riots on Fridays after prayers are continuing even now – so much so that the U.S. embassy compound is in almost total lock-down. When CodePink — a delegation of Americans — tried to visit the embassy in our van, we were held in virtual captivity a half mile away by the Pakistani police for more than 40 minutes. (After a phone call to the deputy head of mission – a connection most Americans and Pakistanis don’t have – we were miraculously permitted to drive by. We had to argue with the guards, using a show of CodePink “chutzpah,” to be allowed just to take pictures outside.)

The cordon of security that isolates the U.S. embassy into a Green-Zone “bubble” also creates a sense of American impunity among a people who feel that their very survival is under threat. “If they think specific people have done something wrong, arrest them and bring them to court. That is a basic right you give to your own people,” Khan told us. “But (Americans) don’t consider us human beings. I can’t go to your embassy (to register a complaint). This is our sovereign state, but no one can go there without permission.”

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Each of these Hellfire missiles costs $60,000.

Only three persons were in Kahn’s compound when the drone sent six Hellfire missiles crashing into it: a mason who was building a mosque nearby, Kahn’s 16-year-old son and his younger brother, who worked as a teacher and believed education was more powerful than the gun. Instead, the drones came and taught his students hatred. As the New York Times has reported, “drones have replaced Guantanamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.” Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center found that 74 percent of Pakistanis now consider the United States to be an enemy. Particularly insidious is the increasingly common belief that the CIA is paying informants to plant tiny, silicon-chip homing devices that attract drones in homes of suspected “militants”; however, says Khan, those chips are frequently used instead to settle old grudges and disputes between tribes. (A note about that word “militant,” so often used by the Western media: Too often all those who are killed by drones are assumed to be terrorists. U.S. officials have confirmed that it now counts all adult males to be militants, absent exonerating evidence. In other words, all men living in Waziristan are guilty until proven otherwise.)

Although the U.S. announced shortly after the strike on Khan’s compound that a “militant target” named Al Juma had been killed, no one by that name was present. Several months later, yet another strike allegedly killed the same man. “I think actually he is still alive today,” Khan said with graveyard humor.

“Twenty-four hours a day, the American drones circle our airspace. Whenever they want to attack any house, no one can (or will even try to) stop them,” Kahn observed. “Everything in our lives is affected – our ability to work, go to school and provide a future for our children. Our boys are leaving for cities elsewhere in Pakistan.”

Another Waziri tribal elder, Malik Jalal, echoed Kahn’s concerns, reporting 17 suicides in the region in the last month alone.

“Family members can’t sit together in large gatherings anymore, for weddings or even funerals; we are too afraid of appearing ‘suspicious’ to the Americans,” he explained. Consider the story of Sherabaz Khan, who lost both of his brothers on March 17, 2011, when 50 of his tribe members were killed while participating in a jirga, an assembly of Pashtun elders in which tribal decisions are made. Pakistani government authorities had been informed in advance of the planned meeting, yet they clearly did nothing to stop the drone attack. (Despite protestations to the contrary by officials, it is widely acknowledged among the Pakistani people that their government is cooperating at some level with the United States in the drone program.)

Noor Behram, a photojournalist from North Waziristan, has been documenting the effects of drone strikes for four years, focusing on the deaths of children and women. Many women have been killed in drone attacks, since the kitchen is normally adjacent to the large meeting room where jirgas and other gatherings are held. Yet, they frequently go undocumented due to the practice in Waziristan of purda, or the separation of women – to the point that they are not allowed to be photographed, for instance, or even talked about in conversation with outsiders. Women’s deaths are not officially reported.

“So far I have counted more than 670 women who have been killed by drones, most while working in kitchens, and 100 children,” said Behram. To work around the purda restrictions, he begins by collecting the names of the brothers or fathers of women who have been killed, and photos of their clothing. Slowly, as word of his work spreads, tribal members are coming forward to tell them the stories of their women and children, and he often travels up to seven hours to collect the information.

Behram has held an exhibition in Islamabad, and foreign publications like the UK’s Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel have printed his pictures. But Pakistani media will not use his images, or even announce the deaths he documents.

“The mainstream narrative in Pakistan has been very pro-drone,” explained Shahzad Akbar, founder of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), the organization that is sponsoring the CodePink delegation and sued the CIA for wrongful deaths caused by drones in Pakistan. “If a woman is whipped for violating some norm, those images are shown right away. But drone victims? No. That is slowly changing. “

FFR also is challenging the Pakistani government’s acquiescence with the drone program and – with the UK’s Reprieve – the British government for its own role in providing intelligence.

“Tell your president he must stop using drones to kill innocent people, and tell your fellow Americans they must join you in protesting,” pleaded Kareem Khan. “We are proud of our culture and our way of life, and you are destroying it.”

About Pam Bailey

I am social entrepreneur who reports on Palestine; teaches journalism/ social media & consults on communication strategies in the fight for peace & justice. Have 2 homes: Washington DC & Gaza.

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14 Responses

  1. David Samel
    October 13, 2012, 8:59 am

    Kareem Khan has threatened to kill only “the soldiers who are responsible for” killing his son and brother. Would it be any wonder if other drone victims’ family members wanted to exact revenge on any Americans anywhere? Of course, it is inconceivable that Mr. Khan would ever encounter the anonymous drone operator in the US who pulled the trigger by remote control. And all drone strikes supposedly are approved by the Nobel Peace Prize winner himself. Why do US presidents get automatic immunity from the charge of mass murder? Not only is this War on Terror morally indefensible for the enormous number of people slaughtered in foreign countries, it is illogical as well. How many “terrorists” have we created with this insane program, people who have lost family members and want to strike back against any American targets anywhere? When “we” were victims of terrorism on 9/11, the general mood of our entire country was to strike back against any Muslim targets on behalf of fellow Americans (not just family members), and we’ve done a bang-up job. But when victims of our terrorism have the same impulse, they are crazy Muslims with an irrational hatred of the greatest country God has ever created.

    Pam makes the great point that all males of fighting age are considered legitimate targets, which conveniently reduces the number of “civilian” casualties. But what of the truly “legitimate targets,” that is, those men who have weapons and the desire to use them in defense against the military attack by a foreign power on their homes and communities? Mr. Khan himself has expressed a desire for revenge, and limited and measured as it is, that marks him as a “terrorist” worthy of assassination, doesn’t it? How insane is it that people who are defending their homeland against aggression from a hostile military are deemed enemies deserving of the death penalty. And lets not forget Noor Behram, the photojournalist who is daring to document the victims of our aggression. Surely his photos and stories have the potential to fan the flames of anti-Americanism, making him an enemy as well.

    How wonderful it is that we have a choice for President between the architect of this program and someone who promises to be worse.

    • Annie Robbins
      October 13, 2012, 11:38 am

      U.S. officials have confirmed that it now counts all adult males to be militants, absent exonerating evidence. In other words, all men living in Waziristan are guilty until proven otherwise

      that’s the way it was in iraq too.

  2. pabelmont
    October 13, 2012, 9:16 am

    The statement of desire for vengeance echoes Americans’ post-9/11 attitudes. We (our government and military) were in a position to act on this desire to exact vengeance, hence the USA’s war against Afghanistan (and, now, Pakistan’s Waziristan).

    Perhaps these Pashtuns will find the means to retaliate. It is understandable that they should try.

    America’s apparently ever-expanding (and never-ending) retaliation and vengeance is NOT (to me) understandable in the sense of “sympathetic”. When will we, as the man asks, treat these people as human beings?

  3. flyod
    October 13, 2012, 9:46 am

    excellent reporting. i hope the obama supporters amongst us take the time to read this. perhaps a follow up on those profiting from development and manufacture of these drones.
    link to rferl.org

  4. Dan Crowther
    October 13, 2012, 11:33 am

    Doesn’t Pam Bailey know we have an election going on here? You can’t bring this up now!

  5. Annie Robbins
    October 13, 2012, 11:42 am

    great reporting pam.

  6. Les
    October 13, 2012, 4:31 pm

    American victims are as likely to be as random as those Pakistanis we kill and maim. Our media will be shocked by those brutal attacks on innocent Americans that don’t make sense to anyone in our peace loving nation.

  7. DICKERSON3870
    October 13, 2012, 7:03 pm

    RE: “These are the chilling words of Kareem Khan, a Pakistani journalist from a tribe in Northern Waziristan, whose compound was destroyed by a Hellfire missile from an American drone [most likely a Predator® 'unmanned combat aerial vehicle'] on Dec. 24, 2009.” ~ Pam Bailey

    FROM MERRIAM-WEBSTER:

    • Definition of HELLFIRE
    the eternal fire of hell that tortures sinners

    • Definition of PREDATOR
    1: one that preys, destroys, or devours
    2: an animal that lives by predation

    • Definition of PREDATION
    1: the act of preying or plundering : depredation
    2: a mode of life in which food is primarily obtained by the killing and consuming of animals

    Definition of DEPREDATE
    transitive verb: to lay waste : plunder, ravage
    intransitive ver: to engage in plunder

    RECOMMENDED READING:
    “How We Became Israel”, By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, 9/10/12
    LINK – link to theamericanconservative.com
    “America Adopts the Israel Paradigm”, by Philip Ghiraldi, Antiwar.com, 7/05/12
    LINK – link to original.antiwar.com
    “Israelis are helping write US laws, fund US campaigns, craft US war policy”, by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, 6/30/12
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net

    • DICKERSON3870
      October 13, 2012, 7:22 pm

      P.S. RE: “The mainstream narrative in Pakistan has been very pro-drone . . . If a woman is whipped for violating some norm, those images are shown right away. But drone victims? No.” ~ Shahzad Akbar

      RECOMMENDED VIEWING: Panama Deception (The Panama Deception: Exposing the Cover Up!) 1992, NR, 91 minutes
      Filmmakers Barbara Trent and David Kasper explain the untold truths behind the United States’ 1989 invasion of Panama in this hard-hitting documentary that illuminates the complex relationship between Gen. Manuel Noriega and the U.S. government. Juxtaposing interviews with experts and eyewitnesses with historical media reports, the film shows how the press helped win the American public’s approval despite widespread condemnation abroad. [THIS FILM WON THE OSCAR IN 1993 FOR THE CATEGORY "BEST DOCUMENTARY, FEATURES".]
      Cast: Elizabeth Montgomery, Lou Diamond Phillips, Abraham Alvarez, Alma Martínez, Carlos Cantú, Robert Knight, Diviana Ingravallo, Ramsey Clark
      Netflix format: DVD and streaming
      • Netflix listing – link to dvd.netflix.com
      • Internet Movie Database – link to imdb.com
      Panama Deception-TRAILER [VIDEO, 03:37] – link to youtube.com
      • ENTIRE FILM ON YouTube: The Panama Deception
      [VIDEO, 1:31:17] – link to youtube.com
      • ALSO AT ‘FREE DOCUMENTARIES’ – link to freedocumentaries.org

  8. DICKERSON3870
    October 13, 2012, 7:54 pm

    RE: “Tell your president he must stop using drones to kill innocent people . . .” ~ Kareem Khan

    MY COMMENT: Lol! As if our government gives a damn what we “plebes” think! ! !

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Inverted totalitarianism]:

    Inverted totalitarianism is a term coined by political philosopher Sheldon Wolin to describe what he believes to be the emerging form of government of the United States. Wolin believes that the United States is increasingly turning into an illiberal democracy, and he uses the term “inverted totalitarianism” to suggest similarities between the United States governmental system and totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.[1][2][3][4]

    Inverted totalitarianism and managed democracy
    Wolin believes that the United States (which he refers to using the proper noun “Superpower”, to emphasize the current position of the United States as the only superpower) has been increasingly taking on totalitarian tendencies, as a result of the transformations that it has undergone during the military mobilization required to fight the Axis powers, and during the subsequent campaign of containing the Soviet Union during the Cold War:

    While the versions of totalitarianism represented by Nazism and Fascism consolidated power by suppressing liberal political practices that had sunk only shallow cultural roots, Superpower represents a drive towards totality that draws from the setting where liberalism and democracy have been established for more than two centuries. It is Nazism turned upside-down, “inverted totalitarianism.” While it is a system that aspires to totality, it is driven by an ideology of the cost-effective rather than of a “master race” (Herrenvolk), by the material rather than the “ideal.”[5]

    According to Wolin, there are three main ways in which inverted totalitarianism is the inverted form of classical totalitarianism.

    1. Whereas in Nazi Germany the state dominated economic actors, in inverted totalitarianism, corporations through political contributions and lobbying, dominate the United States, with the government acting as the servant of large corporations. This is considered “normal” rather than corruption.[6]
    2. While the Nazi regime aimed at the constant political mobilization of the population, with its Nuremberg rallies, Hitler Youth, and so on, inverted totalitarianism aims for the mass of the population to be in a persistent state of political apathy. The only type of political activity expected or desired from the citizenry is voting. Low electoral turnouts are favorably received as an indication that the bulk of the population has given up hope that the government will ever help them.[7]
    3. While the Nazis openly mocked democracy, the United States maintains the conceit that it is the model of democracy for the whole world[8] . . .

    Managed democracy
    Wolin believes that the democracy of the United States is sanitized of political participation and refers to it as managed democracy. Managed democracy is “a political form in which governments are legitimated by elections that they have learned to control”.[10] Under managed democracy, the electorate is prevented from having a significant impact on policies adopted by the state through the continuous employment of public relations techniques.[11]
    Wolin believes that the United States resembles Nazi Germany in one major way without an inversion: the essential role that propaganda plays in the system. According to Wolin, whereas the production of propaganda was crudely centralized in Nazi Germany, in the United States it is left to highly concentrated media corporations, thus maintaining the illusion of a “free press”.[12] Dissent is allowed, although the corporate media serves as a filter, allowing most people, with limited time available to keep themselves apprised of current events, only to hear points of view which the corporate media deems to be “serious”.[13] . . .

    SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

    • DICKERSON3870
      October 13, 2012, 8:14 pm

      P.S. FANFARE FOR THE COMMON (WO)MAN: “CALLING ALL PLEBES! CALLING ALL PLEBES! ATTENTION ALL PLEBES!”

      From: Josh Ruebner, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
      Sent: Thursday, October 11, 2012 10:09 AM
      To: ####
      Subject: Momentum Builds for U.S. Investigation of Israel’s Killing of Rachel Corrie

      Earlier this week, Cindy and Craig Corrie accepted the prestigious 2012 LennonOno Grant for Peace on behalf of their daughter, Rachel, who was killed by the Israeli military with a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer as she nonviolently attempted to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip in March 2003. . .
      . . . However, nearly ten years after Rachel’s killing, her family still has not received justice. In August 2012, a civil case against the Israeli military filed by the Corrie family concluded with the presiding judge not only absolving the State of Israel of any liability, but also blaming Rachel for her own death. This is unacceptable.
      Together with our friends at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), we launched last month a petition to the State Department calling on “the U.S. government to conduct thorough, credible, and transparent investigations into the death of Rachel Corrie and into each case involving the death or serious injury of an American citizen by the Israeli military since 2001.” . . .
      . . . We plan on delivering these petition signatures to the State Department later this month. Be sure that we include your signature by signing today!

      PETITION – link to salsa.democracyinaction.org

    • DICKERSON3870
      October 14, 2012, 10:31 pm

      RE: “As if our government gives a damn what we ‘plebes’ think! ! !” ~ me (above)
      AND RE: “Inverted totalitarianism and managed democracy” ~ from the Wikipedia excerpt above

      link to politico.com

    • DICKERSON3870
      October 14, 2012, 10:39 pm

      RE: “As if our government gives a damn what we ‘plebes’ think! ! !” ~ me (above)
      AND RE: “Inverted totalitarianism and managed democracy” ~ from the Wikipedia excerpt above

      SEE: “Under the Cloak of Liberalism ~ America on the Cusp of Fascism”, By Norman Pollack, Counterpunch, 10/12/12
      LINK – link to counterpunch.org

      P.S. Although I agree with much of what Norman Pollack writes, if I resided in one of the 2012 Swing States (the electoral votes of which might realistically go to either Obama or Romney), I would have to vote for Obama.
      However, I live in the not so “peachy” state of Georgia (The Peach State™), and unfortunately our electoral votes will be going to Romney no matter how I vote. Consequently, I will be voting by absentee ballot for Jill Stein of the Green Party as a “write-in”.

  9. piotr
    October 15, 2012, 1:18 am

    “If a woman is whipped for violating some norm, those images are shown right away. But drone victims? No. That is slowly changing. “

    A video of a bearded Taliban functionary whipping a prone women alleged to be unfaithful was circulated before the government decided to end the truce that gave Taliban the control of Swat valley. Allegedly, the woman invited a family friend for lunch when her husband was away traveling. Taliban is also implicated in a number of killings, kidnapping for ransom and other activities detrimental to their popularity.

    Taliban is definitely a vile phenomenon. They seem to deploy both indoctrination and very brutal intimidation, and they are extremely reactionary to boot. Neither Afghan government, nor American forces, nor Pakistani government figured an effective way to fight them. Regaining control of Swat by the government lead to 200,000 “internally displaced”, of population ca. 1.2 million. There were complaints that the government was very slow helping the displaced. Seems that it was a massive and brutal application of force with expensive consequences, and thus the government is very hesitant applying such measures in Waziristan.

    It does not mean that drones are moral, legal and effective. It seems that they are neither. And blowback is not in the future tense, it happened already. Iran is much more popular in Pakistan than USA. If you add an attack on Iran to a situation already made tense by the drones, it can get ugly pretty fast.

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