Staking out a firm position on the question of US involvement in Pakistan is the equivalent of finally meeting an online Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf fanatic face to face. No matter how factual and dispassionate you are in presenting your position, the only response will be a fury of counter-accusations. Fall too strongly on the pro-American side and you will be denounced as a Western-educated ‘burger’ who secretly desires to be ruled by an imperialist power; be equally adamant in denouncing drone attacks and prepare to be called a Taliban apologist. This mindless repetition of the Bushian ‘with-us-or-against-us’ mantra is the intellectual equivalent of throwing spitballs in the sandbox.
Since I strongly fall on the anti-US government side, believing that drone warfare is illegal and immoral — and would like to avoid the usual pro-extremist label — let me explain exactly why I am so opposed to these killer robots before coming to the main thrust of the column, which is to ponder how we, as individuals, should react to drone attacks.
The main issue for me is that of civilian casualties, which have been reported as being ludicrously low. The most prominent of those gathering statistics on drone deaths is the New America Foundation, which takes all its numbers from Pakistani newspapers, which, in turn, uncritically report figures given to them by government officials. Unsurprisingly, the government claims almost all dead are militants. Basically, what we have is not a tally of actual civilian deaths but a government wish list that posthumously declares all those killed in drone attacks to be militants.
The Pakistani government’s figures are spurred by its ex post facto desire for a cover-up. The US, however, in an inversion of all morality, has already declared everyone guilty before blasting them to death. According to a report in The New York Times, the Obama Administration simply assumes that all men of military age who are killed by it are militants, unless explicitly proven otherwise. This policy is stunning, both in its disregard for innocent life and in its essentially racist nature: everyone in the tribal areas should be considered a caricature out of a Rudyard Kipling novel.
For those Pakistanis who agree that the US is a wanton aggressor that has no regard for human life, if that life happens to be living in Fata, an obvious question poses itself. What can we do to register our protest and disapproval with what is happening rather than be complicit in the killings?
Here’s one possible solution. For those of us who come from the elite, there is almost no chance that we remain untouched by US government money. From working on projects funded by the USAID to participating in seminars arranged by US consulates, we gladly accept American dollars even if we believe that they are waging a war that flouts all international laws.
Eliminating all US government money from our lives will never stop drone attacks but it will remove that taint of hypocrisy that lingers over us. And the small personal sacrifice that it requires should not be too burdensome. Instead of working for an organisation that calls itself an NGO but tailors all its programmes to attract the glut of US aid that is pouring in, we can earn a lower salary from someone who is truly independent. And is skipping speeches by the usual suspects at some US-arranged seminar or the other really much of a sacrifice to ask for?
The details we now have of the drone war show that the US has as little concern for civilian life as the assortment of militant groups. Yet, none of us would think of working for the Jamaatud Dawaa’s charity offshoot. For the Americans, for some reason, we are willing to sell our humanity.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2012.