Yesterday, June 24th, over 80 people were killed after a U.S. drone fired missiles at the funeral of a suspected commander of the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan. Pakistani officials reported that the Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, escaped the attack while the majority of those killed were civilians. Al-Jazeera English reports the following:
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said: “There are reports that Mehsud himself was at the congregational prayer and escaped the attack.
“However, we are told that a number of people present at that particular moment were [also] killed. There were unconfirmed reports that the death toll is much higher because a number of the bodies are badly mutilated.
However, Qari Hussain, a close associate of Mehsud, denied reports that Mehsud had a close call and said many of the dead were civilians.
“Baitullah Mehsud was at a secret place at the time of the American missile attack, and the attack killed only five of our colleagues, and the remaining 45 slain men were villagers,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
There is some dispute over the causality numbers — some say over 45, some say over 65, some say over 80 — but does the exact number really matter when we’re (1) talking about human life and (2) what has now become a frequent routine sweep for U.S. drone attacks in the region? Since President Obama’s inauguration in January, he has authorized regular attacks from unmanned U.S. predator drones on Pakistan, which has amounted to over 150 people. As Jeremy Scahill writes in his article, “Obama’s Undeclared War Against Pakistan Continues, Despite His Attempt to Downplay It,” that “Since 2006, U.S. drone strikes have killed 687 people (as of April). That amounts to about 38 deaths a month just from drone attacks.”
Last weekend, Obama sat down with Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, and stated that the U.S. has “no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan.” He also mentioned that he knows how to cook some Pakistani dishes like qeema and daal, and expressed his appreciation for Urdu poetry. Are these comments meant to soften the reality of U.S. operations inside of Pakistan? Although Obama denies U.S. military presence in Pakistan, The New York Times reported the following in February:
American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.
The drones are remotely-piloted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) which have been used a great deal in Iraq and Afghanistan. What doesn’t seem to be discussed is that there is a lot of racism and ethnocentrism embedded in these drone strikes. As Scahill comments, “the only difference between using these attack drones and using actual US soldiers on the ground is that the soldiers are living beings. These drones sanitize war and reduce the US death toll while still unleashing military hell disproportionately on civilians.” In other words, the drone attacks tell us that human life is only important if it is American. When innocent Pakistanis are killed, all the Obama administration can say is they “regret it” because they have that privilege.
We’ve all seen it before in science fiction films and novels. Robot armies and unmanned vehicles are deployed by nations with disproportionate military power (namely the United States) to protect their own civilians, but never showing the same concern for human beings in other countries. Eventually, what happens is the machines take over and end up waging an indiscriminate war against all of humanity. Remember Skynet from the Terminator series: Cyborgs and machines built initially to protect Americans against “foreign threats” develop a system/mind of their own and become humanity’s worse enemy. No, I am not suggesting that machines are going to take over the world in such dramatic fashion, but metaphorically, it’s already happening and right now, it’s benefiting the military superpower. Imagine what would happen if another nation used these same drones to attack a town in the United States? How would the U.S. react to that?
First, there were spears, then swords, then arrows, then catapults, then gunpowder, then rifles, then canons, then automatic weapons, then fighter aircraft, then missiles, then the atom bomb, and now we have unmanned aerial vehicles. What’s next? Android soldiers? As much as we can appreciate human innovation and technological advancement in things like the internet and telecommunication, why is that most of our government spending is invested in military technology? Think about all the things we could be doing with that money instead of killing other human beings. Think about all the people we could feed, shelter, and educate. Most of us living in the west take our privilege for granted and don’t realize that we have a privilege to pursue our dreams and ambitions. Others, like the 3 million people displaced in Swat, have other priorities in their lives before they can even worry about anything else.
And what kind of reaction are these drone attacks going to create from Pakistanis? How does this benefit Pakistan’s attitudes towards the United States? Pulse Media has an excellent post which includes Democracy Now’s interview with Imran Khan, a very outspoken activist and critic of both, the Pakistani government and U.S. foreign policy. Here’s an important excerpt:
AMY GOODMAN: Imran Khan, you were in Washington at the time that US lawmakers voted for funding the expanded war in Afghanistan. The US is planning a massive diplomatic presence in Pakistan. I think President Obama asked something like three-quarters of a billion dollars, $736 million, to build a new US embassy, as well as permanent housing for US officials in Islamabad. What is the effect of this? And what is the effect of the expanded war in Afghanistan on Pakistan?
IMRAN KHAN: Well, there was no terrorism in Pakistan, we had no suicide bombing in Pakistan, ’til Pakistan sent its troops on—under pressure from the US. Musharraf, General Musharraf, capitulated under the pressure and sent Pakistani troops into the tribal area and Waziristan. So it was that that resulted in what was the new phenomenon: the Pakistani Taliban. We had no militant Taliban in Pakistan, until we got in—we were forced into this US war on terror by a military dictator, not by the people of Pakistan. And people never owned this war. People always thought that this is not our war, and quite rightly, because we did not have any terrorism in Pakistan, as subsequently grew.
The more operations we did, the more reaction came. And suddenly, as now, we have thirty Taliban groups. I mean, these groups call themselves Taliban, but basically these are radicalized people, these are extremists. And extremism is growing in Pakistan, the more we are being engulfed in this war, which is based in, basically, Afghanistan. So, as long as the US troops are in Afghanistan, I’m afraid there’s no peace in Pakistan either, because the tribal areas are basically—there’s no border there, so the Pashtuns are split between—on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we have, you know, this movement across the border. And, you know, to send a—think that the Pakistan army is going to stop it—I think Pakistan army itself is going to be stuck in this quagmire, the same as the US in Afghanistan.
Imran Khan makes a crucial point that I always find myself making when I discuss how the current crisis in Pakistan evolved. Following the attacks of September 11th, George W. Bush gave countries like Pakistan an ultimatum, “you’re either with us or against us.” In that respect, Pakistan was pigeon-holed into military cooperation with the United States and as a result of fighting Taliban and militant forces in the North West Frontier Province, hostility and antagonism towards the Pakistani government increased. The Taliban forces have invaded Pakistan, not because this was something rooted in their ideology, but because the Taliban consider the Pakistani government complicit with the war crimes of the United States.
President Obama, who has criticized U.S. foreign policy in other countries, oddly does not enlighten Americans about the current struggles in Paksitan. He does not seem to worry about the inevitable backlash from the Taliban, militants, or even the civilians who just lost their Loved ones. If Obama is willing to engage in diplomatic relations with other Muslim countries like Iran and Palestine, then why isn’t the same true for Pakistan and Afghanistan? The President assured Pakistanis that their country’s sovereignty will not be violated, but the truth of the matter is that the drone strikes are violating their sovereignty. So what is Obama’s purpose in Pakistan? Jeremy Scahill reveals some disturbing facts about America’s plans in Afghanistan and Pakistan:
It is clear—and has been for a long time— that the Obama administration is radically expanding the US war in Afghanistan deeply into Pakistan. Whether it is through US military trainers (that’s what they were called in Vietnam too), drone attacks or commando raids inside the country, the US is militarily entrenched in Pakistan. It makes Obama’s comment that “[W]e have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan” simply unbelievable.
For a sense of how significant US operations are and will continue to be for years and years to come, just look at the US plan to build an almost $1 billion massive US “embassy” in Islamabad, which is reportedly modeled after the imperial city they call a US embassy in Baghdad. As we know very clearly from Iraq, such a complex will result in an immediate surge in the deployment of US soldiers, mercenaries and other contractors.
Are you enjoying your qeema and daal, Mr. President?