Perspective: “I no longer love blue skies” – why Pakistanis are terrified Trump will bring back drone strikes… By Shahzad Akbar
Shahzad is the founder of Reprieve partner organisation Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) and was the first lawyer on the ground to represent civilian drone strike victims in Pakistan.
The return of US drone strikes in Pakistan would be a disaster. That’s what I’ve been told time and time again by the people who lived for years in constant fear in the remote parts of my country.
These same people can now hear the faint buzz in the distance growing louder as Donald Trump used his speech last week to threaten the Pakistani government, adding fuel to the simmering reports of the imminent return of regular drone strikes. If he pushes ahead with his plans he will really only be punishing innocent men, women and children who are being used as diplomatic bargaining chips in this mythical game of targeted killing.
Why do I say it’s a myth? Human rights NGOs have analysed the Obama-era “targeted” killing programme and found that, on average, for every strike that hits the right target, two bombs are dropped in the wrong place, killing the wrong people.
There are also many thousands more who are injured and traumatised by what they see. My clients Nabila ur-Rehaman and her brother Zubair were just nine and 13 when they watched as a missile fell on their grandmother Mamana while she was picking vegetables in a field in October 2012. Both children were badly hurt, but long after they have recovered from the physical injuries the mental scars remain.
Zubair later told a US congressional committee: “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.”
In March, the Trump administration labelled large parts of Yemen as an “area of active hostility”, meaning they are now considered war zones and the military can bomb at will – without even the limited checks and balances under Obama.
Now, increasingly junior military officers can decide on targets and authorise bombs to be dropped. Analysis of data by Reprieve reveals a fivefold increase in the rate of US drone strikes in the country so far this year with an inevitable increase in reports of civilian deaths.
Little is achieved in conflict without the local population on side. From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign interventions fail when the battle for hearts and minds is lost.
Every innocent civilian killed has family and friends and they will never forget the country that appears to put such little value on their loved one’s life. They will never again put their faith in America to make their world a safer place.
If you need any more convincing that the return of US drones to Pakistan would be a mistake, just look at what the 450 strikes in more than a decade have achieved. Al-Qaida fighters still operate in the mountains north of Pakistan; the Taliban still control large areas of Afghanistan; and 16 years after they first arrived in the region, thousands more American troops are once again in the air on their way to fight. No one thinks there isn’t a problem; those of us who have looked at the evidence simply know drones aren’t the solution.
“When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” said candidate Trump before he won the election last year. We were told not to worry. That the rhetoric of the campaign would be toned down by the influence of reason. That no future president would intentionally take civilian lives. All the signs are now telling us that was wrong.
If Trump sends his drones back to Pakistan, he will be condemning thousands to daily terror and hundreds to death, without even knowing their names.
A longer version of this article was published on the Guardian website, and is available here https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/30/pakistanis-terrified-trump-drone-strikes