I see the village in my mind’s eye: There is an open courtyard with a common sitting area where low charpais, covered with beautiful and colorful quilts, are filled with women and children. Women rule this courtyard! They are in charge and everyone knows it.
Off to the side is the pump, surrounded by a low wall for a measure of privacy. Children and moms surround the pump and laughter and talk are loud. They are speaking village – what’s the price of onions, whose husband has gone to Peshawar for work, why Sadia’s curry isn’t as good as Fatima’s, who’s pregnant, who wants to be pregnant, who’s engaged. Talking village – village stories and village life. There is the smell of curry, onions, and hot spices permeating the village air. There are cow pies on the outside mud walls; there is smoke from the wood fire; there are chapattis baking, and small silver dishes at the ready for food.
The men are nearby in their own gathering space. A space close by and for men alone but who cares? It’s the women’s area that is alive with activity, with life, with color.
Just one click – and chaos ensues. The baby that was toddling around with a naked bottom, a tawees (amulet) with verses of the Koran around his neck, is suddenly screaming and a mom is rushing to pick him up while yelling to her other children to gather. The curry and chapattis are forgotten – who cares about food when you’ve tasted fear and just the taste has filled you to suffocation.
The chaos comes from an attack drone targeted specifically to this area in Pakistan that borders Afghanistan. The controls sit in a sterile room, far removed from faces and places. The target shows up on a computer screen, much like a video game. All it takes is one click.
Just one click to obliterate life.
Just one click to show who’s the boss.
Just one click to be declared the winner.
Just one click and then a coffee break.
Just one click….
Although it is the men’s area that is hit, shrapnel flies as does mortar, brick, death, anger, and sorrow. What doesn’t fly is the terror and what it feels like to grab your children and run. That sits deep in the psyche and affects all of life for years to come.
In a decade of drone use, 95% of all drone attacks have occurred in Pakistan. 95% of 300 drone attacks. They have killed over 2000 militants and we don’t have a number of civilians. Just one click. No numbers. No accountability. That means that 95% of the unknown number of civilians were from Pakistan. It’s elementary school math.
Attack drones in the future will be “cheaper, smaller, faster, stealthier, more lethal, and more autonomous, it is harder to imagine what they won’t do than what they will. Whatever limits drones face will be imposed by us humans — not technology.” Micah Zenko from Foreign Policy Magazine Mar/April 2012.
Any country has a right to defend itself from terror attacks. But it must do so with care, with research into minimizing the so-called “collateral damage” factor. It must also do so with accountability and understanding that collateral damage can lead to future, angry aggression.
The question is this: Does the use of attack drones really make the U.S. safer?
I fear that our love for technology and unmanned aerial vehicles will overlook the obvious (and not so obvious) problems from this type of warfare. Are these drones really “surgically precise” as the narrative would have us believe?
An independent research study “Living Under Drones” produced by International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School (Stanford Clinic) and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law (NYU Clinic) says this: “Counterproductive’ drone war “terrorizes” civilians in Pakistan. The drone war has given rise to “anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities”
This is the first report of this type that I am aware of and there is a need for more independent reports, reports based on neither bias nor drama. With reports comes greater knowledge around the where, how, and why of attack drones. Theoretically taxpayers can ask for that kind of accountability.
Is it that we don’t think about accountability because it’s “just Pakistan”. Do people honestly care about this small and often struggling country? I come from a tribe of people who care – but we are unusual in our backgrounds and have had the privilege of experiencing Pakistan as our adopted home.
Stories like that of Malala Yousafzai help give a human face to Pakistan, but we are a long way from seeing Pakistan as a place that has a face worth protecting. Are we willing to commit to understanding more about attack drone use, and speaking out on this subject as we learn more?
As someone who sees all life as precious, not just American lives, I write this post and ask these questions. What do you think?