WASHINGTON - The US government and its drone programme in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) of Pakistan are responsible for killing of my mother as well as other civilians who fell prey to drone strikes, a member of a victim family who is in the United States to seek justice told this scribe on Wednesday.
Rafiq ur Rehman – whose mother Momina Bibi was killed and his young children were injured in an October 2012 drone attack in North Waziristan Agency – said he had come to the US to seek answer why his family was targeted. He added that he wanted restoration of peace in his area, a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan.
“We are an educated family linked with the cause of spreading education. My father was also a teacher,” he further said. Speaking in Pashto through an interpreter, Rehman said he as a human being wanted an end to drone strikes, adding the issue of violence can only be resolved through educating people. He said that he was not a counsel and did not want to comment whether or not the drone strikes were violation of international and humanitarian laws.
Rehman said he had watched President Obama on television advocating drone hits but he wanted to apprise supporters of drones that these strikes were less beneficial in this war to eliminate militancy. “The drone strikes are less beneficial and more counterproductive,” added Rehman.
When asked whether drone strikes have any link to creation of more suicide bombers as a consequence, he said that different people had different approaches to this issue. “Yes there is such belief in the area. Being an educated person, I can only raise my voice and inform the people about its negative impacts. I am here to inform what is happening.”
He was affirmative when asked any wrong killing might have its consequences, especially in tribal areas where taking revenge of family member’s killing is one of centuries old tradition.
Rehman declined to comment about death of militants in his area through drone strikes. When asked could drone attacks be justified if they only kill militants, as many high-profile Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders have been killed in such hits, he said there was no communication network in North Waziristan. They do not have cell phone or cable facility. So whenever anyone dies in drone attack, the deceased is labelled as militant and same was the case when his mother died and his children and nephew got injured.
Rehman was careful in replying to questions about the Pakistani political scene and said he had no idea over any possible secret involvement of Pakistani government in this regard. He said he was not a politician and could not say whether Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was getting political mileage on drone strikes or not. “I’m a teacher, I’m not a politician, so I’m not one to comment on that,” he said.
The Washington Post citing top-secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos reported last week that despite repeatedly denouncing the CIA’s drone campaign, top officials in Pakistan’s government have for years secretly endorsed the program and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has urged Obama to end the US drone program in his country during a recently held meeting of both of the leaders in Washington DC on October 23.
Rehman said that after his mother’s killing, he went to political agent of North Waziristan to ask why his mother had been killed, as every state is responsible to save the lives of its citizens. The political agent said that the US, not the government of Pakistan, was responsible for her mother’s death.
He said that being a teacher he wanted to spread education but surgeries for drone injuries had prevented his children from going to school. He said when drones are hovering over the area, the people get frightened. They do not send their children to school due to fear of attack. The education system has been disrupted in North Waziristan. Education is the basic right of every children and they have been denied of it due to drone attacks, he lamented.
Robert Greenwald – founder and president of Brave New Foundation, which has just made a film about the drone war, and Jennifer Gibson, an American lawyer in London with the non-profit anti-drone group Reprieve – were present for the interview, along with Rehman’s children Nabila and Zubair.
Greenwald and Gibson were optimistic that Rehman’s arrival in the United States and his appearance along with his children at different events here would have a far-reaching impact in their struggle against drone attacks. They termed it one more – and not the last – step in their efforts to save people from drones.
Talking to this scribe, Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International, said that Rehman was a brave person who had come to the United States to raise the issue of drones. “It takes a lot of courage. He is talking about drones in the US, but he’s under a lot of pressure. Here’s a guy who’s come to the world superpower. It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s doing. I really admired the guts he has shown to come all the way here to talk about what’s happened to him. He will be going back to Pakistan with a lot of attention,” he added.
Various analysts and reports say that drone attacks are killing less militants and making more enemies. Qadri said he was quite sure that any wrong killing might have its consequences, saying: “There’s no question when you kill the wrong people that will lead to animosity towards the United States.”