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Hiding Behind the Drones

By 20 May 2011 21 Comments


Down with the drones: Imran Khan has waged a war against drone attacks, and it seems to be resonating with Pakistani citizens.

Imran Khan promises to free Pakistan of injustice, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and unemployment while empowering women and securing equal rights for religious minorities. But Khan’s critics label him a Taliban sympathiser who garners support by using the anti-US card when anti-US sentiments already are high. Whereas Khan staunchly opposes the drone strikes in Pakistan and repeatedly blames them for rising terrorism in the country, critics feel he has not been vocal enough in condemning religious fanatics across Pakistan. And while he has not protested against suicide attacks on the civilian population, he is on his way to lead a second sit-in against CIA-operated Predator drones, this time in the country’s financial capital, Karachi. His claim: the menace of terrorism (which the US claims the drones contain) can be uprooted within 90 days under his leadership if the drones stopped raining ‘hellfire.’

Is the US really the reason for growing terrorism in Pakistani society? Are drones targeting innocent civilians? Would terrorism be contained if the drones were to stop?

Drone attacks began in 2004. Only nine strikes occurred in the first four years of the program. Since January of 2008, however, there have been over 230 incidents of drone attacks in Pakistan’s north. But the history of terrorism in Pakistan precedes these events by decades.

From the 1986 Pan Am hijacking in Karachi to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has been implicated in many acts of global terrorism. Even foreigners have found Pakistan a fertile haven for terror. As such, many international terrorists in recent history have been proven to either have trained in Pakistan or been arrested on its soil. Here are a few of those names: Waleed bin Attash of Yemen who killed 17 people in the 2000 USS Cole attack; Ahmed Ghailani of Tanzania who was responsible for the death of over 200 people in the twin US embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania; Khalid Sheikh Mohammad of Kuwait who masterminded the 9/11 tragedy; Umar Patek of Indonesia who killed hundreds in Bali; senior Al-Qaeda operative Abu Faraj al-Libbi of Libya; and now Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.

Drone attacks motivated none of these people or events. The underlying sentiment was hatred of the West and US foreign policy elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world, as well as a strong desire to cause harm. It was also the extremist belief that non-Muslim countries are Dar-ul-Harb and the world should be in a constant state of war until the domination of Islam. Even though Islam forbids suicide, some radical influential scholars have justified suicide bombings to meet this end. These suicide attacks, which Imran Khan believes are the result of drone attacks, had been sanctioned by extremist clerics in Pakistan much before the drones visited us.

As shown in the graph below, not only can we not deduce a cause-effect relationship between drones and suicide bombings, we can clearly see that the latter have been far more deadly. (Text continues after the graphic).

Is there a link? Comparing the number of deaths in Pakistan caused by drone attacks and those due to suicide blasts. Source: The New America Foundation and

Is there a link? The number of deaths in Pakistan caused by suicide blasts and those due to drone attacks, from 2002-2010. Sources: The New America Foundation, CPOST and the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

With an escalation of the war on terror, suicide bombings have risen but the real motivation for these attacks remains a radical interpretation of faith and the prevailing anti-American sentiment. And while drone attacks may have contributed to rising anti-US sentiment in some quarters, they alone do not represent the entire source of anger towards the superpower. Besides, it is safe to say that some political parties have used drone attacks to stir up anti-US sentiment to use as a weapon against the sitting PPP government.

Further, we cannot ignore the fact that hundreds of madrassas in the south of Punjab and in other parts of the country continuously indoctrinate children in this ideology, even recruiting them to become suicide bombers, promising paradise as the reward. Nor can we ignore that a spike in suicide attacks occurred in 2007 after the military operation at Lal Masjid in Islamabad – an operation that was carried out by Pakistani forces not US forces.

In Jihad in Islam, Maulana Abul Ala Maududi writes, “Islam wishes to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam, regardless of the country or the nation which rules it.” Fanatics take inspiration from such passages. Multiple terrorist outfits operating in the country also claim to find support for their actions in distorted interpretations of Islam. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the SSP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad and many more have been active for decades in Pakistan spreading violence within the country and exporting it abroad. Extremist ideology continues to be preached in seminaries such as the Darul Uloom Haqqania (aka the “University of Jihad”), the same seminary Imran Khan visited for support on his way to a sit-in in Peshawar a few days ago. The senior vice-president of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was also recently seen with Hafiz Saeed, the head of Jamaat-ud-Dawaa, the political and charitable arm of the banned LeT, condemning Osama’s murder. Osama was named a “Martyr of Islam” in the same rally.

Imran Khan does condemn all forms of terror, but why does he fail to protest against these terrorist organisations and against their distorted teachings with the same vigour he employs when railing against US drones? And, ironically, why does he instead seek support from them? Where were the sit-ins against the ideology that led to the assassination of Salmaan Taseer or Shahbaz Bhatti? What if there were no drone attacks, would Taseer and Bhatti have been saved? Would the thousands that celebrated their death and forbade prayers at their death suddenly have become champions of interfaith harmony and preachers of pacifism? Would stopping drone attacks and fighting the war on our own stop extremism?

The destruction from drones, as opposed to the thousands that have died at the hands of the militants, is considerably less. According to the New America Foundation, drones have killed a high estimate of 2,350 people, 1,880 being militants. Thirty-three of those were militant leaders. According to the Long War Journal, 1,879 leaders and operatives from Taliban, Al Qaeda and allied extremist groups have so far been killed with 138 civilian casualties. So, while not trivialising the tragic deaths of civilians, drone attacks have helped to eliminate hundreds of terrorists and prevent them from further tarnishing the image of Pakistan and Islam.

The Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA) interviewed locals from the areas hit by drone missiles. Their results showed that most locals saw the drones as liberators from the militants operating in the area. Farhat Taj, a member of AIRRA, challenged American and Pakistani media to provide verifiable evidence of their exaggerated claims of civilian casualties and argued that since the areas were inaccessible to the government and media, the Taliban exaggerated numbers as part of a propaganda war to win the hearts of the citizens. Her challenge remains to be taken up.

Contrary to the surgical strikes of the drones, military combat on the ground has caused a higher percentage of civilian casualties. Moreover, the drones that fly over Pakistani airspace once took off from Shamsi Air Base in Balochistan (though, there are reports that most now depart from Jalalabad, Afghanistan). As such, it would be more appropriate for Imran Khan to shift the sit-in to the GHQ headquarters in Rawalpindi. It would be even more appropriate to shift them to Jamia Haqqania, or Mansoora for that matter, places that have long endorsed extremism and spread it around the country.

Imran Khan claims he can end the decades-long menace of terrorism by bringing an end to drone attacks. To that, I respond: if the aim of your sit-in really is to end terrorism and not just garner political support, Mr Khan, then I suggest a shift in site… that’s all.

Vote in the poll below:

Would you vote for Imran Khan as prime minister of Pakistan?

  • Yes (86%, 1,616 Votes)
  • No (13%, 248 Votes)
  • Undecided (1%, 29 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,884

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Kashif N. Chaudhry is a graduate of King Edward Medical College in Lahore and is presently completing his medical residency at Mt Sinai Hospital in New Jersey. He can be found on twitter @KashifMD.

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  • susan webb said:

    Brilliant. I like Mr. Khan, but I do agree he is stoking the fires of hate.

  • BZA said:

    The very fact that you took all this time out of your presumably worthwhile medical career to highlight in such extensive detail what you consider to be Imran Khan’s shortcomings is an affirmation of sorts for the man himself. But while you are at it, maybe you should also clarify some basic facts and not indulge in selective analysis. Firstly IK speaks out incessantly against terrorism,but your bad you missed out on this during your research. Secondly,the PTI has never sought any sort of support from the religious extremist organizations and just because they appear to share public space with the PTI at social protests cannot be equated in any ways as a meeting of minds. The PTI has nothing in common with these groups and they know it.Thirdly, IK was one of the first politicians to condemn Taseer and Bhatti’s murders, but again you did come across these facts in your research.Finally, the assertion that terrorism can be eliminated in 90 days is based on the scholarly analysis of many internatinal experts such as Graham Fuller, Anatol Levin, Thomas Hegghammer etc and IK did not conjure this formula out of nowhere.

    Instead of waxing lyrical about the benefits of these degrading drone attacks, maybe you should have spent a few minutes to consider as a doctor the thousands of lives that end mercilessly violently and go unnoticed.So wonderful that we managed to capture the 6 high profile terrorists that you mention in your article. Does this justify the loss of the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children by foriegn powers in the effort to capture a few men? Such warped mindsets of Western apologetics are the real reason behind Pakistan’s misery today.

  • Maqbool said:

    If you are already drowned, no drone can push you more down.

  • Carol Grayson said:

    Two wrongs don’t make a right whether its suicide bombing or drones. I believe Imran Khan is correct to protest on this issue. There is something extremely disturbing about targeting a person for incineration. If the person is a “suspected” militant, there is a legal process to hold individuals to account. If civilians target killed it is viewed as crime… and it should be the same for the State…which should not be above the law. “It seems that there are two key points to be taken into consideration when summarising the use of drones. The first is the issue of legality, the second is whether they are actually an effective weapon against insurgents. Chip Pitts, a political commentator argues on Press TV that drones are illegal, compromise a state’s sovereignty and are not as precise at hitting targets as advertised. He states that “the last ratio I saw was 20 terrorists killed for about 750 civilians, that’s not a good ratio” http://www.presstv.ir/detail/179824.html A Channel Four interview with Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation and author of “The Longest War” echoed the low success rate suggesting that only 2% of those killed were senior Al Qaeda and Taliban figures http://www.channel4.com/news/us-drone-attacks-failing-to-kill-many-militant-leaders I leave the final word to the ever vocal Noam Chomsky (linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and social activist) who had this to say in the Examiner…“drone attacks are target assassinations and therefore a crime. Whether they are militants or not these people are being targeted because the US doesn’t like them. Targeted assassination is an international crime. United Nations’ special rapporteur Philip Alson, a very respected international lawyer, came out with a report which simply say that it is a criminal act.”

    Carol Grayson is Director Co-ordination Asia Despatch and a UK researcher /campaigner on global health/human rights awarded ESRC Michael Young Prize 2009

  • Tahir said:

    Tell me the names of ten terrorist who have been killed by drone attacks?
    You have no answer,obviously.You might be dreaming to shifting to USA and Imran’s opposition to US’s terrorism might shatter your dreams.What a selfish person!

    Many people whose families were killed by drone attacks threatened to take revenge from Pakistan.Stupids and selfishs like you need to think of Pakistan.
    Terrorism have got to be there forever but we never have had suicide bombing before 2004.When was our Army attacked before 2004?Whih bazar of Pakistan have ever been targetted before 2004?

    People like you need to be a bit educated.Serve Pakistan,not west or America.But after beggers don’t have an independent mind.

  • Carol Grayson said:

    I welcome the fact that civilians hit by drone strikes are now to take legal action and the legality of drones and position of those affected is being discussed not only in Pakistan but at a legal conference next week in Berlin. There is also co-operation between countries with Pakistan lawyers and a British law firm examining cases. Let’s remember these civilian victims had names, Zain Uddin age 18, Asif Iqbal age 32… How about this account from Kathy Kelly and Josh Brolier…as told by an eye-witness to a drone attack… \The social worker recalled arriving at a home that was hit, in Miranshah at about 9pm (May 2009). The drone strike had killed at three people. Their bodies carbonized were fully burned. They could only be identified by their legs and hands, one body was still on fire when he reached there. Then he learned that the charred and mutilated corpses were relatives of his who lived in the village, two men and a boy aged seven or eight. They couldn’t pick up the charred parts in on piece. Finding scraps of metal they transported the body parts away from the site. Three to four others, joined in to help cover the bodies in plastic and carry them to the morgue. But these volunteers and nearby onlookers were attacked by another drone strike, 15 minutes after the initial one. Six more people died. One of them was the brother of the man killed in the initial strike.\

  • Ijaz Khan said:


  • Kashif (author) said:

    As the author of this piece, I wish to add an addendum for those that did not fully get the argument I made. I condemn any and ALL civilian deaths and am no way ignoring the pain of the innocents that die. My argument is that no matter how good Mr Khan is, his sit-ins against the drones are merely aimed at getting public attention. The menace of terrorism will not end in 90 days no matter which ‘gora’ name you quote was behind that analysis. Terrorism in this part of the world precedes the drones.

    P.S: I have said time and again that if there was a person I was impressed with on the Pakistani political stage, it was IK. However, that does not make him immune against criticism. Again, that is all!

  • Carol Grayson said:

    90 days is pushing it…and agree…no-one is immune from criticism, constructive criticism keeps us sharp, on our toes. Imran Khan has to start somewhere… and perhaps I am an eternal optimist having watched the Peace Process in Ireland but if anyone had ever told me IRA leaders (considered a terrorist organisation) would be in govt side by side with Democratic Unionists I would have thought it impossible…However hard it is…in order to prevent more violence there has to be pathways left open for dialogue…The situatio will not change overnight… but one thing is clear …the US presence and the use of drones exacerbates violence and is further dividing Pakistan…

  • jamal farooq said:

    if you listen to imran he says in every interview that the way war on terror is being fought is increasing militancy and radicalization in the society. and if pakistan has a sovereign strategy and not being percived as hired gun of the us it will be easy to uproot militancy. USA is talking to talban its no secret anymore why media is not criticizing it??? its so patathic when imran says the same thing to negotiate with tribals to isolate the real terrorists why some people start jumping like a frog?? but when usa is working on the same strategy of seeking political solution then everyones mouth remains shut. thats totally unfair i think its just a propaganda to label imran khan as some sort of extremist. which clearly he is not.

  • Carol Grayson said:

    @ Jamal… governments have often negotiated with terrorists when it suited them… Imran Khan is certainly not an extemist…he simply understands the subleties of fighting for peace… which is like walking a tightrope… He also appreciates the need to consider the causes of extremism… and as a westerner I speak openly when I say the US DOES sponser state terrorism, had done for many years in many countries and with its current foreign policy cannot be considered a friend to Pakistan… What use are US dollars thrown at Pakistan if Pakistanis do not have security and freedom to build their country in the way they want…

  • Anis said:

    Imran Khan always says that if he comes in power, he will stop these drone attacks but he always fails to explain his stratagy how will he get this goal.

  • Syed Arbab Ahmed said:

    The writer wants that Imran Khan should first do his dharna against people who commit SUICIDE, is it? Give me a break. Yes, I also think that mere dharna will not help stopping drones but at least he is far more vocal than any other politician.

  • Meera Ghani said:

    I completely agree with Carol Grayson however I think that Imran Khan while good intentioned uses the wrong narrative to connect the dots. He keeps blaming everything on US imperialism but fails to take a hard stance on the monsters the Pakistani Army has created for us. I think we should condemn violence and terrorism whether its by non-state actors or state sanctioned. I echo very similar views to Carol in my piece on http://pakteahouse.net/2011/05/19/in-a-black-and-white-world-i-prefer-the-color-grey/#more-13094

    I feel that the more the drone FATA the more resentment it creates. I dont know how people cant see the link between rise of suicide attacks as the drone attacks increase in the graph above. Its very hard to miss. Drones may not be a cause but they certainly are one of the symptoms that’s leading to this extremist mindset.

    @Carol would you mind sending me more details on the conference in Berlin. I would love to attend it. I think lawsuits against the attacks are a good way forward.

  • Carol Grayson said:

    @ Meera… we are definately of similar opinion. I read your excellent article and yours is a voice of common sense and reason…too often I see decisions fuelled by hysteria. There are many grey areas and no-quick fix solutions, they key I believe is to remain open-minded, sometimes we need to challenge our own thinking. Abuse of human rights and violence against a person/s needs to be highlighted whoever is committing such an act… Human rights should not be selective…

    I am happy to share details of conference when its arranged… its early planning stages. Our first meeting is in early June and its planned for September/October but I think we can attract some interesting speakers. I can contact you via your blog and I will share your writing, thanks…

  • Meera Ghani said:

    Thanks Carol, for your kind words of encouragement. Looking forward to the conference. Please contact me on my facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=518328007#!/meeraghani

    And I agree with you completely its not about who carries out these acts is about human rights. That’s what’s often forgotten in these discussion. There are no quick-fix solutions to these deeply rooted problems. Drones are often seen as a quick-fix solution but will cause more harm than good in the long-term as the study by CIVIC points out also cited in my article.

    Looking forward to meeting you in person.


  • Salman Khalid said:

    For the ones blinded in Imran’s love, who seem to think that he can do no wrong – all the author is saying is that why not same kind of protest against the real instigators, the fanatic mullahs who are ruining the youth of our nation by indoctrinating them with a very twisted philosophy of intolerance and extreme cruelty.
    Imran Khan might have condemned Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti’s brutal murder, but a lot more is required – perhaps a sit-in might have been a start..
    All brutalities against innocent civilians are wrong, so while I commend Imran Khan for standing up for the civilian deaths as a result of drone attacks – the fact remains that the ones that actually tried to tackle the problem head on, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were shot down in cold blood with very few voices condemning the actual perpetrator and his supporters – i’m still shocked at how Qadri was celebrated as a hero – what have we come to? . even the few who spoke out were very circumspect with their words, almost to the point of being scared.
    We need more heroes like Mr. Taseer and Mr. Bhatti and more people who publically and repeatedly acknowledge their sacrifices, as only they hold the key to Pakistan’s future – otherwise the outlook is not good.
    I hope we stop blaming everything on external elements and try to address the sources of terrorism that are homegrown and right under our noses, as those are the things more under our control.

  • Carol Grayson said:

    Trying to deal with different factions is like walking a tightrope. Sometimes its about timing. You can barge in like a bull in a china shop but it may not get you anywhere. Sometimes you have to watch and wait and pick an opportune moment. If you want to minimise casualties you have to keep lines of communication open. I watched this with the Peace Process in Northern Ireland… a real balancing act…

  • Salman said:

    I have read some very strong arguments against drone strikes. Some have even argued that it breeds more hatred against the US and creates human fodder for the terrorist orgainisations. I have a few questions
    why are masses not protesting against drone strikes. A PTI dharna of a few thousand people does not count. I have seen more people gather for horse and cattle show. Why have the main stream political parties (pml-n, ppp, anp, mqm) not taken a strong public stance against drones. A toothless resolution in parliment does not count. Might it be that this issue actually does not strike a chord with voters.

    My two cents on drone strikes; its a tactic not a strategy for eliminating threats. US uses drones as a tactic to safeguard its citizens and the strategy is to pressurise pak to give up her tacit support for extremist groups. Drones are a short term effective measure. I agree this is not a long term solution; tactics never are but the onus is on pak to show concrete steps for eliminating terrorist sancuaries. Unless that happens, drones will continue.

    @carol grayson: we tried talking to taliban and the result was mayhem. Peace deals were a complete and utter failure. How do you talk to people who think they are on a devine mission from god. For the extremists, this is not a political struggle but an ideology that needs to be enforced.

  • taj said:

    the girl is another idiot fanatic deluded in american ideology had she or her family been droned and bled to death i would have asked her to reply!
    smell your coffee before its sipped by your subconsciousness sweetheart


    i wonder how many DOLLARS would’ve she pocketed as a result of ridiculing herself and at least making my head in utter shame when a fellow pakistani him or herself abuses pakistan!

  • ali said:

    Imran is just a new tool for the mullah military alliance. Only the new kids can be fooled by such dharna’s where Jamat Islami, Lashar e Taiba, Sipah Sahaba and Sunni tehreek are participating.