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Dear President Obama, What have you fixed by meeting Malala?

on 13 Comments

MalalaDear President Obama,

Thank you for your meeting with an impressive young lady from my country, and for showing concern over the citizens of Pakistan. In the picture from the White House, you are all smiling. This is almost heart-warming, and almost does not look like political point-scoring or a publicity ploy.


While the world celebrates this beautiful moment strategically captured by your photographer (who deserves a raise), I hope you will excuse me for not patting you on the back.

The Pakistani public very much appreciates your sympathy and support for Malala [Yousafzai], who was shot by your enemy, the Taliban. It’s heart-wrenching when Pakistani children get hurt, no? Or is it only heart-wrenching when Pakistani children get hurt by the Taliban? What of Pakistani children who get hurt as a result of the actions of your military or your CIA? What of the Pakistani children who get hurt because of your country’s involvement here?

Since your country started the drone program in 2004, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) estimates that as of August 1, 2012 between 482 and 849 civilians have been killed by drones in Pakistan. Many of these are children. That estimate represents the full range of civilian casualties credibly reported in reliable sources, some of which the TBIJ has corroborated with it’s in own field investigations in Pakistan. In fact, between 2006 and 2009 alone, a leaked document by the Pakistani government estimates 147 civilian deaths, 94 of which were children.

As you probably noticed, these numbers do not include those children who were injured.

A year ago on October 24th, two children—13-year-old Zubair and 9-year-old Nabila—were injured by a CIA drone strike. On October 26th of this year, these brave survivors are coming to DC to testify before Congress. Won’t you also invite them to the White House, Mr President? Won’t you smile for a photo with them? Won’t you tell them about the billions of American dollars spent on wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Perhaps many Pakistanis will not impressed be by your meeting with Malala. While you meet her to show support against Taliban bombing of schools in Pakistan, you have yet to stop bombing Pakistan itself.

Out of curiosity, what did you say to Malala when she “expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people.”

I’m sure Zubair and Nabila will also express similar concerns.

When you come from a world where you’re caught between the Taliban and the US military, where do you turn? A world where the impact of drone strikes and the retaliation it breeds hits close to home, its reverberations spreading like a toxin, poisoning the region. A world where the story of a girl who is shot at by the Taliban is heard by you in person, but the story of drone strike survivors remains ignored.

Forgive me for being so naïve, but you don’t need a 16-year-old girl to tell you about the resentment caused by drone strikes. You already know what to do.

Yours sincerely,

A Pakistani

Humna Bhojani

Humna Bhojani is a Pakistani story-teller, who writes on Islamaphobia, the War on Terror, feminism, sex and sexuality (on a good day the intersection of all of the above). Follow her commentary @bhojanio

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13 Responses

  1. DaveS on October 15, 2013, 10:55 am

    Excellent letter, and kudos to Malala for confronting Obama in her gentle but articulate way with her views on drone strikes and informing the press about her remarks.

  2. biorabbi on October 15, 2013, 11:14 am

    Humna, well written article. But, it should be pointed out that drone attacks are highly effective weapons in the war on terror. Many bad guys have been eliminated by drone attacks. There is no risk of loss of American lives as the operators work here at home. The bad guys are denied safe haven and are reduced to hiding in huts/caves, limiting their operational impact.

    • annie on October 15, 2013, 11:57 am

      would you advocate similar attacks on jewish terrorists in their settlements at the likely risk of killing several civilians with each strike?

    • tommy on October 15, 2013, 12:38 pm

      If drone attacks became highly effective weapons against American terrorists, you would be screaming for nuclear warfare.

  3. K Renner on October 15, 2013, 11:19 am

    There certainly are better, less “collateral” ways to achieve their objectives then random drone strikes.

    Strategic and essentially moral laziness, if they try and write off non-Taliban deaths as no big deal.

  4. Justpassingby on October 15, 2013, 11:23 am

    Sorry Malala but you are getting used by warmongers.

  5. eljay on October 15, 2013, 11:30 am

    I admire Malala’s courage.

    • Kathleen on October 15, 2013, 2:54 pm

      One of the most articulate, gentle, compassionate and incredibly brave souls that we have seen or heard from in a very long time. Malala rocks our souls!

  6. David Doppler on October 15, 2013, 12:11 pm

    Great photo and great letter.

    Watching President Obama take on the Republican Congress over the looming credit default from a DC food kitchen yesterday put me in a mind to question the President’s understanding of the role of the Chief Executive, and of the management of symbolism by his staff. When the world economy is about to crash due to a US government default, why stand in a food kitchen? What message does this send to the world? “I’m doing what’s most important to me at this point in time: helping cook and serve food to the poor. Not my fault if the US Treasury defaults and countless millions around the world suffer economically as a result. Look to the irresponsible Congress I have to deal with.” For being “wicked smart,” as Phil calls him, Obama can be very shallow when it comes to understanding the role of executive power. To me he’s either saying, “I don’t have a clue what the powers of the executive are.” or, “I choose not to use them to get to a deal, I’ll let the government default, if I need to, and I’ll be content to blame the Republicans.” “I couldn’t go to Asia this week, because I had to serve in the food kitchen.”

    This photo with Malala reminds me of the one of George W. Bush rolling up his sleeves staged with firefighters wading into the Katrina cleanup to show “I’m on the job.” All photo-op, no substance or contrary substance being disguised in plain sight. Except the messages Obama sends are “I’m too weak to stop drone strikes [or close Gitmo, or reign in the NSA and CIA, or defy AIPAC, or strong-arm Congress to avoid default], but my heart is in the right place.”

    The University of Chicago got Nobel laureates 88 and 89 yesterday. I’d suggest they now remove Obama’s oversized smiling face for his peace prize from its central location in their awesome display wall (if they haven’t already).

  7. tommy on October 15, 2013, 12:36 pm

    If Malala Yousafzai were to return to Pakistan and become a harsh and vocal critic of America’s drone assassination program, President Obama would make her a target for elimination. I hope she grows to understand how US hegemony is enforced.

  8. Citizen on October 15, 2013, 4:50 pm

    Here’s what she told the drone meister:
    “I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees. I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fuelling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”

  9. just on October 15, 2013, 6:58 pm

    Sweet, smart Malala. She’s very obviously concerned for justice and peace, as well as very concerned about our damnable drone strikes.

    Humna’s letter explodes on the page.

    Now, Mr. President– when will you give the same consideration to a Palestinian, an Afghan, a Yemeni, an Iraqi, an Iranian or any others of the millions of humans who we’ve hurt?

    It’s a beautiful picture, and yet, “something” is missing. That is not to take away anything good that is portrayed here, but to give an echo to Humna’s questions about drones and the many, many innocents killed and brutalized by our killing/wounding actions and our very deliberate inaction.

  10. RoHa on October 15, 2013, 8:25 pm

    “What have you fixed by meeting Malala?”

    Fixed? You think he’s supposed to fix things?

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