Any airborne sound shatters peace and people start running helter-skelter to save their lives in the remote Pakistani region, bordering Afghanistan. North Waziristan is one of the seven tribal agencies that make up the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Tribal Areas), a loosely-governed territory in northwest Pakistan. The area has been the focus of all US drone strikes.
A team of human rights researchers, who visited this region recently found children having lost mental balance and elders wailing for their lost relatives.
“The children are very scared of drone planes. When they hear the sound of explosions from drones, they cry, run home and hide under the bed or take shelter behind their mother or father,” one father from Esso Khel told the Amnesty International (AI) researches.
Stressing that Pakistani authorities have a poor record of bringing Al-Qa’ida, Taliban and other perpetrators of violence to book, the international human rights watchdog found the US drone strikes creating an endless cycle of violence, rather stamping out terrorism. The AI team which reviewed 45 drone strikes through field research, found many of them targeting civilians, as old as 68 year old grandmother and a 14 year old young boy, sandwiched between the terrorist organizations, Pakistan military and the US-led western forces.
While Pakistan government has been publicly opposing the US drone programme, there is ample evidence that institutions in Pakistan and in other countries including Australia, Germany and the UK may be assisting the US to carry out drone strikes. Residents even told the AI team that they are unable to report abuses by armed groups to local authorities for fear of retaliation. They were also fearful of talking about drone attacks and those who did, received threats afterwards.
Declaring that local people have little control over the presence of Taliban and Al-Qa’ida in their villages and districts, the comprehensive report first of its kind, found US drones also attacking the same population. “The tragedy is that drone aircraft deployed by the USA over Pakistan instills the same kind of fear in the people of the tribal areas that once associated only with Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban,” says the report with DNA.
Such are these attacks cold-hearted that those who run to the aid of the victims of an initial drone strike have been targeted in a rapid follow-on attack, raising serious questions about violation of international law and amounts to war crimes or extrajudicial executions.
An area bordering Afghanistan, North Waziristan is one of the seven tribal agencies that make up the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Tribal Areas), a loosely-governed territory in northwest Pakistan that has been the focus of all US drone strikes in the country. Three main armed group networks operate in the region: the Afghan Taliban, which carries out military operations against US, Afghan and allied forces in Afghanistan and occasionally against Pakistani forces; the Pakistani Taliban, which seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state and is responsible for attacks on state forces across Pakistan; and al-Qa’ida-linked groups consisting of local and foreign fighters which plan and promote attacks globally.
“Secrecy surrounding the drones program gives the US administration a license to kill beyond the reach of the courts or basic standards of international law. It’s time for the USA to come clean about the drones program and hold those responsible for these violations to account,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher.
The report, however, admits that missiles fired from US drones have inflicted significant losses on the Taliban and other armed groups. Many senior armed group leaders like al- Qa’ida’s Abu Yahya al-Libi and the Pakistani Taliban’s Wali-Ur Rehman Mehsud, have been killed in the strikes. But the region is also home to around 840,000 people, who face the constant fear of being killed by armed groups, the Pakistan armed forces and the US strikes. According to US Senator Lindsay Graham, the USA had killed a total of 4,700 people using drone aircraft till early this year.
“Our routine life is affected as curfew is imposed every Sunday,” explained Gulab Khan of Mir Ali town to the AI team. “Our children and even grown-ups remain in constant tension and distress, as if something happens during the curfew then you have to face the music in the shape of mortar shelling from the [Pakistan Army] cantonments and from the [Pakistan military] helicopters.”
Mamana Bibi, aged 68, was attending her crops in Ghundi Kala village on the afternoon of 24 October 2012, was killed instantly by two Hellfire missiles fired from a drone aircraft. “She was standing in our family fields gathering okra to cook that evening,” recalled Zubair Rehman, one of Mamana Bibi’s grandsons, who was about 119ft away also working in the fields at the time. “There was a very bad smell and the area was full of smoke and dust. I couldn’t breathe properly for several minutes,” added Zubair.
Pakistani intelligence sources told the AI that a local Taliban fighter had used a satellite phone on a road close to where Mamana Bibi was killed about 10 minutes before the strike, But based on detailed descriptions of the incident site the road appeared too far form the place.
Similarly, on 6 July 2012 a group of laborers from Zowi Sidgi village was attacked when they had gathered at a tent after a long day of work in the summer heat. To add to their woes, when some villagers ventured to search for the drones, reappeared firing another series of missiles targeting those who had come to the rescue.
The AI asks US to publicly disclose the facts and legal basis for drone strikes and ensure prompt and independent investigations into all cases. It has also asked Pakistani authorities to provide adequate access to justice and also fair trials to those responsible for killings.