Pakistani tribesmen protest US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal region on February 25, 2012. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)
In recent months I agreed to be interviewed by questionnaire and engage in online discussion with Iffat Anjum Shonchoie from the International Relations University of Dhaka, Bangladesh on the subject of drones. I am an independent researcher/ human rights activist who has written on the impact of armed drones for several years.
Iffat has now completed her MSS Research Project, “Mapping the Civilian Casualties in US Drone Strike Programme” She says her final revelation is as follows,
“A composition development is no way less dedicating than reproduction of a human soul . A composition is about idea and ideas have intangible insights too…………”
Iffat Anjum Shonchoie (Dhaka) interviews Carol Anne Grayson (UK) independent writer/researcher on drones
1) How far US drone strike targeted killing policy is affecting Pakistani civilians in the post 9/11 era?
US drone strikes are targeted on those living in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan and were intended to eliminate militants (assassination, pre medicated killing) denying alleged terrorists the right to fair judicial process via a court. This began post 9/11 as part of the ongoing “War on Terror”. Some strikes aim for specific targets, signature strikes “permit the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to kill without requiring them to know who they kill” see following Guardian link for details,
Local inhabitants regardless of whether they are involved in insurgency or not are treated as second class citizens and viewed by both US and Pakistan governments as expendable. Terrorism is common within cities such as Karachi, Pakistan but drones do not target such urban areas as there would a massive backlash from the population. In fact such are the double standards that authorities do not even want helicopter camera drones over Karachi let alone armed drones. To quote Sindh police chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo in Dawn,
“You see, one can’t afford free use of drone cameras in Karachi. Our main concern is that it can be used for any terror or criminal activity. Such a machine can easily be used as an explosive carrier. There are several other issues as well which compromise security arrangements and that’s why we seek a complete ban on it in Karachi”
Tribal people are subjected to terrorism from the air, drone strikes from the US and recently from Pakistan that now have their own drone named Buraq. Samual Mutter explores the philosophical debate on discrimination within airspace in his blog, “Airspace and autonomy, the geographical legal discrimination of drones! https://activist1.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/airspace-and-autonomy-the-geographical-legal-discrimination-of-drones/
Recently the Intercept published a series of articles based on leaked documents that highlighted “drone strikes conducted by the United States during a 5 month long campaign in Afghanistan caused the deaths of unintended targets nearly nine out of ten times” (Washington Times, Oct 15th 2015). In other words 90% of the time US hit the wrong people, something they refer to as “collateral damage”. I have no doubt the finding just over the border in Pakistan would be very similar.
The people of Waziristan spend their life living under the fear of drones and experience both physical harm which can include death, decapitation, loss of limbs, incineration as well as psychological damage, depression, anxiety. Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the following link, I interview Dr Tomasz Pierscionek co author of Medact report Drones: The Physical and Psychological implications of a Global Theatre of War
There is the additional stress of years of legal battle in the fight for justice for drone victims. Cases have been launched such as that brought by Karim Khan against the CIA http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/07/former-cia-station-chief-pakistan-murder-charges-drone-strike
For the long term impact of drone strikes read,
“Drone strikes killed 50 and still causes fear. UK court hears Reprieve”
2) The second query is, there remains a significant ‘information gap’ regarding the issue as Pakistan government do not allow national and international media to access the affected zone. Again , what we see in the reports from different sources ,say ‘The Bureau of Investigative Journalism ‘ and ‘New America Foundation’ –information and numbers of civilian casualties noticeably varies . Also the identity of large majority of people killed by US drones is still not disclosed. So, can you please kindly enlighten me about the problem of accessing authentic information in order to weigh civilian casualties?
Many of the areas where drone strikes occur are off limits to the media. Journalists take huge risks if they try to go into these areas to report and some that regularly cover this issue have been threatened, targeted and killed. One such journalist is Hayatullah Khan of North Waziristan who “filed photos and a story indicating a U.S.-made Hellfire missile had struck a home in the town of Miran Shah, killing senior al-Qaeda figure Hamza Rabia” challenging “official explanation that Rabia had died in a blast caused by explosives located in the house”. This was his last story before being killed. See report of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPS)
Saleem Shahzad (my former colleague) who regularly interviewed insurgents may have been tortured before death to obtain information on the whereabouts of Ilyas Kashmiri who was killed in a drone strike just days after Saleem’s murder. Ironically it was suggested that Kashmiri may have killed Saleem. My own inquries with insurgents was that this was NOT the case as they considered Saleem to be a fair and independent investigative journalist and expressed anger at his death, also insurgents usually quickly claim their killings.
Saleem’s death see article,
Kashmiri’s death see following link.
Saleem was killed as his first book was due to be published. The week before he was kidnapped, I received warnings on my blog to stop reporting on drones and eliciting opinions of victims and insurgents. Saleem and I were due to participate in at a drone conference in the UK. We were also planning a drone documentary and wanted to film a anti-drone protest organized by Imran Khan’s political group Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). This was not possible as I was denied a visa.
Information is obtained by a few brave local journalists who feed back from drone struck areas to western journalists and from the testimonies of victims and their lawyers alongside interviews with community leaders, local officials (usually off the record) and insurgents. TBIJ run a project on naming the victims of drone strikes. Due to the difficulties getting to affected sites there is conflicting information and civilian victims are very likely under-reported. Insurgents may delay releasing information of deaths of their commanders for several months until new leaders are in place. Officials frequently report alleged deaths that turn out to be incorrect. Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was reported dead several times before his actual death from a drone strike. Another Taliban leader “Sajina” has just been reported killed but this is unconfirmed and other reports claim he is alive.
3) Then again, there remains significant altercation about public opinion from the affected zone. I would like to ask about your opinion that according to your experience do the local inhabitants support drone strikes to get secured from insurgents or do they oppose it due to their uncertainty and human costs?
Evidence collected over several years shows that many residents in affected areas DO NOT support drone strikes because they are the ones so often targeted, killed and maimed. Those who generally support are outside Tribal Areas and not personally by drone strikes though may suffer “blowback” through retaliation bombing within cities.
There have been numerous protests from civilians, an anti-drone march and protest camps.
“The IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) from Mehsud tribe have demanded an immediate halt to US drone strikes and prolonged military operation in SWA which was launched in 2009 against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Protestors are vowing to continue their protest until the halt of military operations, which has resulted in the mass displacement of many (civilians ) from the region” (Saleem Mehsud)
“Advocate, Sherpao Khan Mehsud said the sit-in would continue until the fulfilment of their demands. He said that drone attacks were not only killing innocent people, but were also violating the sovereignty of Pakistan. Mehsud Youth President, Jamal Shah stressed that ‘the military operation should be stopped immediately in which houses, markets, schools and colleges had been destroyed.’ He also said the military operation “Rah-e-Nijaat” was started in 2009 in Waziristan and now hundreds of people, mostly children and women are living in slums and are facing various” difficultieshttp://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/02/15/news/national/idps-vow-to-continue-sit-in-until-halt-of-operation-in-swa/
See following link also,
“No to drones and military operations. Voices from Tribal Areas must be heard”
M Iqbal Beig told me, “Just today I heard a bomb go off in the distance. Only to learn FC personnel attacked. It’s about time drones should be unconditionally stopped at all costs because it is harming the peace process. If the drones are not stopped than I can say this by all means that the satan America does not want peace to prevail”
The following link shows photos of PTI political party working with locals to block NATO supply line until drone strikes are stopped,
4) Now, to view from a legal perspective, how far US drone strike policy complies with proclaimed ‘counter-terrorism ‘/ ‘self-defense ‘ strategies in a Non International Armed Conflict (NIAC)?
I am not a lawyer, however the US often targets those who are no direct threat to America, so this cannot be called self -defense. Many of those killed are civilians. Taliban militants often target within Pakistan but not the US. So often those targeted by US are only “alleged” insurgents. Some drone strikes are carried out based on suspicious movement of vehicles in a particular area (that may or may not be militants) rather than on named targets. Continued aid is tied into Pakistan turning a blind eye to US drone strikes and actively targeting militants now with Buraq (Pakistan’s own drone).
Here the Pakistan Ambassador does call for a ban on US drones at the UN after several civilians were killed,
I helped supervise a Pakistani law student in the UK who was writing his dissertation on legal aspects of drone warfare. He was able to frame information forwarded to him within a legal perspective with reference to whether strikes complied with international law. I am hoping he will put this online.
5) I wanted to know in particular; to want extent the long-term practice has become successful in diminishing insurgencies in the areas? There remains debate that, insurgents and civilians` blowback out of grievances- due to the casualties inflicted to their families / body parts. So, according to your experience do you think that drone strike targeted killing is pacifying insurgents or rather infuriates them to intensify?
I must emphasise strongly that drone strikes increase instability, insurgency and risk to the population. For every dead militant, many more become radicalized. Those killed in drone strike are given martyr status “Shaheed” with their photos (whats left on them) circulated on social media. I have interviewed many insurgents over the years and documented “blowback in the form of retaliation attacks, bombings, decapitating of those viewed as spies that allegedly plant chips to help guide in drones. I have also been sent photos of young men (the sons of militants killed in drone strikes) now training as the second generation to take revenge for their dead fathers. See following link,
“Drones: US drone terrorism radicalizing youth in Pakistan and Yemen time for peaceful action on 23rd November”
I spoke to Ihsan Waziri, a business development representative born in Birt, Wana, South Waziristan who has recently returned from visiting family and friends in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, this is what he had to say about radicalization;
“The U.S and their Allies cannot eliminate the Taliban with drone strikes and what I know is that in one drone strike they kill at least 15 people but more then 50 join Taliban so the drone is not a solution to end the war. I stayed for 3 months in South Waziristan, Wana since August and I visit different places where Taliban were attacked by drone strikes in the past and I meet some of the Taliban commander and others even some of them were my classmate in the past.
They told me and I saw by myself that daily some new people come and join the Taliban and everybody is ready to carry on suicide attack in Afghanistan happily. So it shows that Taliban are still strong and they are not yet defeated and nor defeatable very soon and the only solution is a process of dialogue to stop the bloodshed and massacre of the innocent people of Afghanistan and Tribal of Pakistan.”
Waziri also described how one young man had a fall- out with his father who scolded him, the boy’s answers was to run off to join the Taliban. He said that “if you go after them some will even turn on their family.”
In this Youtube video Taliban target NATO tankers in retaliation for drone strikes,
Taliban also say they won’t address the polio problem unless drone strikes stop,
“Enemies want to vaccinate children before droning them”
A Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson, talking to DAWN media claimed that the militant group was behind a suicide attack this week on a military checkpoint which killed at least 5 soldiers and wounded 34 others. The attack was carried out to avenge (then) TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud’s death and took place while the security men were praying in a mosque on the site http://www.dawn.com/news/1075069/at-least-23-suspected-militants-killed-in-north-waziristan
6) How far US robotics manufacturers and corporate companies aimed specifically at children and play a significant role to sustain the practice of drone strikes policy?
Some computer games are designed specifically for the pre training stage to get youngsters used to killing targets on a screen. The ethics of this must be questioned and tightened up. Computer games fuel the adrenaline to kill whilst shielding children from the horrific reality of war. See,
“Drone wars: Gamers recruited to kill”
See link, “Life as a drone operator: “It’s like playing a video game for four years”
Drone operators find they become both bored and stressed and some have gone on to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and question their actions. Recently 4 Airforce members Spoke out publishing a letter against the use of drones. They wrote that civilian killings were driving terrorism and instability…see link,
Sadly those who do speak out may be subject to punishment as whistleblowers with one article suggesting former drone pilots had had their bank accounts, credit cards, stopped
7) Do you think ‘Islamophobia’ can be another explanation to assess the manner of targeted killings?
I have always called drones the Muslim killer. How many non-Muslim do you know that are droned? There are right-wing white terrorists but they are not generally the subject of drone strikes, unless by accident. Racism, imperialism, Islamophobia are behind target killing by drone. I coined the term “Eudronics” to describe this selective process for target killing,
“the inherent belief by influential state agents that some religions such as Christianity, Judaism are superior to others with one faith in particular Islam regarded as inferior and therefore Muslims must be targeted and anhilated through drone strikes. The same applies in relation to race and colour.”
“Introducing Eudronics: Drones as a weapon of religious and sectarian target killing”
“Interfaith conference calls for immediate halt to lethal drone strikes targeting mainly Muslims”
8) To what extent national and international legal framework is being able to protect civilians from drone strike casualties?
Reprieve and other human rights groups and international lawyers focus on breach of sovereignty, highlighting “collateral damage” and the need to uphold international rules of war. The UN has also produced a report which includes Pakistan, please check out the following link also,
“UN Special Rapporteur releases final report on drone strikes”
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution on Wednesday calling on states using drone strikes as a counter-terrorism measure to comply with international law. The resolution urges states the following,
“to ensure that any measures taken or means employed to counter terrorism, including the use of remotely-piloted aircraft, comply with their obligations under international law, including the Charter of the UN, human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality”
Pakistani drone victims including children have travelled to the US to testify regarding their experience to Congress in the hope of pressurising the government to reconsider their drone policy, see following link,
There are very strong arguments, some hopefully presented within my answers to stop drone strikes altogether but is a multibillion dollar industry so sadly realistically that is not likely to happen.
9) Finally, according to you, what could be done to protect the civilians from being affected by the accelerating drone strike targeted killing practices?
As long as there are armed drones, people will be killed. Otherwise its down to exploring options other than use of drones and damage limitation. There needs to be education that drones only radicalize, incite more violence. Public pressure, lobbying, protesting against drones are important, tighten laws to protect citizens as far as possible, there must be accountability and compensation when strikes go wrong. Listening to voices from affected areas. Listening and addressing issues raised by former drone operators. Personally I would ban armed drones altogether as unethical. The points opponents have highlighted as positive points have all turned out to produce negative consequences… so for me it’s a ban all the way.
Iffat Anjum Shonchoie (MSS Research Project, “Mapping the Civilian Casualties in US Drone Strike Programme”)
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.