What the US election means for a Pakistani living with drones

Today the United States votes to elect its next president. For Americans, the choice is about which candidate will improve the economy, healthcare, the employment rate and ensure better living standards.

However, for Pakistani citizens living in the country’s northwest, especially for the 800,000 people in the tribal region of Waziristan, the American election is a question of life and death.

Malik Jalal Khan is an elder of the Mada Khel tribe. He told [the interviewer] that more than 200 people from his tribe have been killed through the CIA-run clandestine drone program in the last seven years. Just like America’s presidential candidates, Malik Jalal is also responsible for the wellbeing of his people. He has to ensure that his tribe’s young have stable jobs, children can go to school and sick people are treated in the best possible way.

When it came to matters concerning Malik Jalal and his tribe’s people, … both Obama and Romney if elected promised to continue with drone warfare that has targeted northwest Pakistan. This means that Malik Jalal still has to live with the fear that any of his tribe’s women, children or men like him are all potential targets, as reports suggest the CIA considers every male of able military age a potential terrorist in North Waziristan. It means his 9-year-old will still not go to school due to fear that his school might be targeted by a drone. It means people will still not attend funerals, have large weddings or conduct their fruit export or mining businesses openly.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, more than 3,300 people have been killed in more than 350 drone strikes during the last nine years.

So far, according to our estimates, these strikes have only killed 41 of the Al Qaeda-linked individuals who were meant to be the real targets of the drone program.

These killings help extremists recruit more discontented youth. A person in tribal society who has lost his family members in this manner is bound by the Pashtun honor code — Pashtunwali — to retaliate and opt for “badal” (revenge or justice). There is growing anti-American sentiment in regions affected by drone attacks and some people are tempted to resort to illegal means when the system does not deliver justice to them. This discontent is spreading among Muslims.

[The above consists of excerpts of an article by Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a legal fellow in Pakistan, director and founder of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, and a practicing human rights lawyer]

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