For whom the drone tolls

Published: July 17, 2010
The writer is a political blogger and dentist (

The writer is a political blogger and dentist (

A question lurks within the mind of every Pakistani: where are we headed with this war on/of terror? Is Pakistan a simple ‘franchisee’ or are we developing our own long-term interests in this war? The strategy to hit out at selected al Qaeda targets unfolded in early 2007 when our government offered facilities for launching drones remotely controlled by joystick operators in distant lands. The decision to kill was left in the hands of ‘informers’ on the ground who planted homing devices near houses that needed to be bombed. A menacing ‘whistle’ precedes the actual impact, many running for cover not knowing ‘for whom the bell tolls’, leaving many unintentionally dead and others maimed for life.  So-called ‘collateral damage’, has been a sterile term. Women and children wailing and shrieking, mourners lifting their dead. The psychological impact has swung any remnant of anti-al Qaeda sentiment into anti-military and anti-US anger.

‘Pakistan Body Count’ – an initiative by a Pakistani graduate of Florida Tech – has documented suicide and drone casualties in Pakistan since 2004. Over 258 suicide attacks have left 3,832 dead and 9,562 injured, which comes out to an astonishing 51 innocent Pakistanis killed or maimed per attack. The death toll of drone attacks is equally worrisome. In the 142 reported drone attacks only 39 al Qaeda activists were killed as opposed to 1,651 innocent people. A kill ratio of 2.12 per cent is not high collateral damage but wanton murder.  Brookings Institution has called the attacks “horrendously indiscriminate in nature”. They violate not only our sovereignty but Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The latter prohibits extrajudicial executions stating that “every individual has the inherent right to life and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” Article 6(2) stipulates that the penalty of death can only be decided by a competent court of law. One must question who is the judge, jury and executioner in this war of terror.

History reminds us of the Northern Ireland conflict which saw indiscriminate killings by terrorists, but the British government kept bringing the murderous gangs to the negotiating table until finally a selective truce was achieved. But recall the Lal Masjid episode. More and more evidence is piling up that many suicide bombers stemmed from that single incident. Had the logic of ‘control of terror by more terror’ been worth anything the initial ‘shock and awe’ would have been enough.

No matter how inhumane these new breed of terrorists are, why have we totally shunned dialogue? A strong military presence with very limited and precise strikes alongside attempts for dialogue may lead to solutions. We are digging our own grave on the behest of the US by involving our army to do their dirty work. Let not the ‘bell toll for thee’.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • ali
    Jul 18, 2010 - 12:16AM

    The rest of 1651 non alqaeda doesnt mean that they are innocent. They are taliban who were sheltering the alqaeda. There were training centers and militants recrutied by alqaeda. High profile alqaeda terrorists werent living among women and children. Families have mostly vacated those areas.Recommend

  • discostu
    Jul 18, 2010 - 1:04AM

    In response to Ali, there is nothing more evil in the world than killing someone based on their beliefs. The Nazi’s tried the same thing. I would like to believe that the difference between me and a suicide bomber would be that I believe in liberty and that everyone has the right to justice. You cannot kill/arrest/jail someone because of association. There will be no difference between the “civilized” and the “uncivilized”.Recommend

  • Shahid
    Jul 18, 2010 - 1:43AM

    Success rate cited by right wing media (and supported by pseudo liberals) has been challenged internationally.

    Indpendent groups have calculated ratio of miliant to civilian/unknown death rate at 3.4 and militant casualty rate at 77.2% unlike the 1 or 2% cited by our right wing fundos. Even this is high collateral damage but way different than what our crackpots tell the people.

    According to the hollow Pakistan Body Count, only Al Qaeda is regarded as militants (perhaps since he’s stuck with the fact that Afghanistan War was supposed to eliminate Al Qaeda).

    Hence militant is only Al Qaeda by their standards. Heck even Baitullah Mehsud isn’t counted as a militant. Seriously man? Killing Baitullah not being counted as a success should be the biggest joke. No LI, TTP or Taliban are counted as militants and that’s a big joke. The News used a website maintained by a single guy as their source instead of doing something on their own and labeled it “by Pakistani authorities”. Had their been an official document, they would have named it and they just relied on the figures collected by one man through news reports that counts only Al-Qaeda as successful kill.

    Read the following two papers

    New Light on the Accuracy of the CIA’s Predator Drone Campaign in Pakistan

    Sudden Justice? Evaluating the U.S. Predator Campaign in Pakistan

    This does not mean that I inherently agree with their findings, methods or views. I wanted to present to you a scientific study rather than urban jargon.

    The need to analyze the effectiveness of a remote targeting technology demands considering its strategic objectives mostly but it has to consider the political, social and economic factors as well. For the US, the necessity to avoid the loss of life on their own side is very important as well. But it would be difficult to establish whether Pentagon would discontinue its policy of drone strikes if it is established that it has caused more collateral damage than it has possibly killed militants. Nevertheless, our public opposition to this policy does not hold much weight in their opinion for our state has allowed and supported it for so long that a demand for canceling it entirely won’t matter to them. Our military supplies intelligence for these strikes and it is not unimaginable that we have used them to target known militants not reachable by foot soldiers easily (meaning that we knew the presence of a militant or training school, supplied intelligence and asked for its destruction). Our military is hand-in-hand with these policies.

    They take place almost always with our consent and often called on our own choice. That means that these places are clearly out of reach of the operating forces hence they require aerial support (including use of mirages and f-16s multiple times as well).

    There’s no factuality in the rhetoric of drone attacks = suicide bombing. I can’t take more of this as this has no grounds. Yes, they can be used as a motivating factor, but there is no, absolutely no evidence whatsoever that any suicide bomber has been linked or a potential bomber that has been apprehended had any acquaintance that died in a drone attack. Bring forward any news report, intelligence report or a case report that states that the person caught or who carried out the bombing had any relative that died in a drone attack and he was avenging his family members. All the time people start making this assumption without any evidence.

    The prime reason is the world view held by militants whereby the view all military operations as being conducted on the “behest of the US”. They view the state’s involvement in the WoT, including the Operations in Wana, Tirah, Orakzai, Mohmand, Bajaur, South Warizistan, Operation Silence and Swat as only for “pleasing the US”. The drone attacks are an additional factor but in no way the prime factor. The world view of West-is-out-there-to-destroy-Islam and these-are-West-stooges are the main reasons. The toxic religious dogmas of declaring everybody not cooperating with you as Kafir and liable to death is a major factor.Recommend

  • Helmand
    Jul 18, 2010 - 3:21AM

    You Talib! why don’t you spend a day or two in FATA and see the Islamic Emarat of Waziristan which the army is protecting. Thanks to drone attacks these murderers are being killed. These figures you quoted about drone attacks, are baseless when the whole FATA is off limit for journalists, researchers and independent observers. Did they count the bodies of civilians killed in drone attacks, or got the information form the PR mission of Rawalpindi?.

    I am sorry I forget protecting the Pakhtuns from al Qaeda and their allies is not the job of Pakistan army. Its job is to protect Punjab from India, Pakhtun territory is just to play its dirty strategic depth game.

    Well done! you are doing a good job for Rawalpindi PR mission. Recommend

  • Jaffar Khan
    Jul 18, 2010 - 8:29AM

    You have got it all wrong.Except for one strike in 2006 in Bajaur,can you name even one innocent civilian killed?The collateral damage in drone strikes is negligible as compared to air,artillery,rockets and mortars.You are also wrong about “planting of homing device on ground”by informers.The figures collected are of AL Qaeda and the Taliban killed in these strikes, have been declared as “innocent civilians”.Pakistan never offered facilities for launching drones in 2007.The strike areas are immediately cordoned by the terrorists,so that the locals do not find out the details.If innocent people were killed, the web sites of Jihadis,Taliban and our own media,being anti Drones,would be full of pics ,names and other details.The Tribal are directly affected by these strikes,just interact with them ,and you would find majority of them in favor of drones.Recommend

  • Jul 18, 2010 - 11:20AM

    What can we expect from Taliban apologists, as they never had access to the territory, just relying on Tv shows and some ill informed western journalists, The news of death tolls, the breeding of extremists via such attacks, the reports of giving clean chit to religious seminaries involving terrorists activities by a think tank, all is adding to our alienation and ‘kunwain ka maindak’ type mindsets.

    Raising populists slogans like that can serve in the confused urban middle class youth but the real victims as Tribal people know well as I have discussion with peoples from the territories that Drones are the a cause of panic among the terrorists, far better than the engineered operations by the mighties.Recommend

  • Jul 18, 2010 - 11:29AM

    Jets have lack of accuracy of targets and have caused much civilian deaths as compared to the Pak-US joint venture Drone attacks, that is why the Pak Govt. is pursuing drone technology and insist their ally US to provide them the sophisticated technology. And the recent news told us Pakistan has succeeded in making the first drone. It shows the shallowness of apologists like Imran Khan & CO.Recommend

  • Sara
    Jul 18, 2010 - 11:39AM

    I like how lightly you dismiss the 51 people killed per suicide attack and rant on the 2.1 kill rate for civilians which you have no way of corroborating from an independent source. When will people like you take their blinders off!?Recommend

  • Jul 18, 2010 - 11:43AM


    does pakistan body count also keeps track of those ‘terrorists’ killed by the PAF?Recommend

  • Riaz
    Jul 18, 2010 - 12:35PM

    More than 3000 innocent Pakistani Muslims have been killed by these people, against whom the Drones are being used. You have little idea about Drone technology,and how do they operate/strike.Recommend

  • Cehyr
    Jul 18, 2010 - 12:45PM

    very well-written piece..!Recommend

  • Hasan
    Jul 18, 2010 - 8:03PM

    In the 142 reported drone attacks only
    39 al Qaeda activists were killed as
    opposed to 1,651 innocent people.

    What were these ‘innocent’ people doing living next to Al-Qaida/Taliban operatives? I never could understand that. I mean if I’m innocent I wouldn’t take my wife and kids and go live in an Al-Qaida/Taliban neighbourhood. If I do, and they or I get killed then some (actually all) responsibility lies with me.Recommend

  • Marjan
    Jul 18, 2010 - 8:15PM

    ET,why do you provide space to a Dentist,who has no idea about drones and Tribal?Your job is to educate people,not to mislead them.The urban middle class of Central Punjab, are the only one,who are protesting against drone attacks.Imran Khan and JI are included in this class.Recommend

  • Raheel Amer
    Jul 18, 2010 - 11:51PM

    For Whom the Predator DronesRecommend

  • Jul 19, 2010 - 4:59AM

    Shukriya, Awab Alvi Sahib. Bohat khoob.

    It is not only the USA drones that need to be outlawed but the Americans too. The CIA agents, operatives, contractors, etc are all over Pakistan, especially in the larger cities. The ISI knows what they are up to but our government lacks the political will to act decisively.

    We need to re-claim our airfields from the Americans, cancel visas issued to hundreds of mischief makers and withdraw permission to the Americans to rain down death on fellow Pakistanis by means of drones. Pakistan’s army has achieved great successes against rebels and mercenaries, it does not need foreign assistance. On the contrary, it is the USA/Nato forces which need Pakistan army’s help to bail them out. Let us fight our own wars, free of intervention by foreign powers – and let them fight theirs.Recommend

  • Jul 19, 2010 - 10:04PM

    Last night a jet has bombarded on Orakzai agency and the sources have claimed that twenty terrorists were killed. Do anybody know what is the criteria of collecting informations from the Taliban aka PTI allies control area to tell us whether they were terrorists or common people, or they were judged from the size of their beards. To protest over Al Qaeda fugitives and dont even mention the victims of drone.
    Do U know how many innocent peoples were killed or deceased due to misguided morter shelling over civilian populations in Swat. Do visit with me Dr. Sb, and count how many of deceased persons, men and women are counting their days to death on the beds who were victims of morter shells off target.
    Chatter, chatter ,chatter bla, bla, bla.Recommend

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