By Arab News
While some of Pakistan’s politicians and journalists have been making some noise from time to time, the issue hasn’t attracted the attention it truly deserves. Even international rights groups have tended to soft-pedal this gross abuse of civil liberties and the basic right to life.
The issue is often lost in the fog of America’s decade long “war on terror” where all legal lines and rules blur and little attention is paid to the identity of victims, let alone the fundamental question if they were really “terrorists” or innocents caught in a directionless, disastrous conflict.
Yet few politicians, including those in power except Imran Khan, the charismatic former cricketer, and the Islamist parties, have so far managed to muster the courage to protest these attacks, lest they are seen as being on the side of “terrorists” and defying Uncle Sam. This silence may have ended up claiming many an innocent life, not that Washington takes protestations by its so-called ally and friend any seriously.
An independent study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism based in the UK released on Thursday says that there were 775 innocent civilians among the 2,292 drone attack victims so far. More disturbingly, at least 168 children were among the victims. Although the US has dismissed the report as “way off the mark,” there is no reason to question the findings of the BIJ report, which is based on independent data and has been corroborated by verified media reports.
Ironically, there has been an upsurge in the terror of these flying machines since President Barack Obama took over. There have been 291 drone strikes since 2004 — 250 of them took place since January 2008. Year 2010 has been terrible for civilians with thousands of them being driven from their homes. Yet the top US counterterrorism official John Brennan has the temerity to insist there have been “zero civilian casualties”, a claim slammed by even the New York Times.
How long will this go on? How many innocent children have to die before the world conscience wakes up to this outrage? For there’s something terribly wrong with all of us when young children are eliminated with deadly precision using Hellfire missiles and governments hide behind spin and obfuscation. No one has any sympathy for Al- Qaeda terrorists or their Pakistani allies Tahreek-e-Taleban. No tears are shed in Pakistan or anywhere else in the Muslim world over their end although the issue of due process still hangs in the air. But the loss of even one innocent life is unacceptable, especially if it happens to be that of a child. As the UNESCO chief argued yesterday, “even one child death is one child death too many.” More important, every time an innocent life is taken, the extremist cause gets another boost, another lease of life. If this war is really a war on terror, it is best fought together with Pakistan and in coordination with the Pakistani authorities. After all, it’s their country, isn’t it? Islamabad has repeatedly demanded control over the drones from time to time but in vain. However, the US appears in no mood to do so. Pakistan is only a small part of the story of continuing US hegemony, even if crucial. Indeed, bases are being built across the region from where the reign of machines will continue for years to come.