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Pakistan’s drones

Vocal as they are about being bombed from the sky, most Pakistanis – including many on the Left – suddenly lose their voice when it comes to the human (Muslim) drone.

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch |
Source/Credit: ViewPoint
By Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy | November 7, 2012


Pakistan’s drones

Pakistan has many more drones than America . These are mullah-trained and mass-produced in madrassas and militant training camps. Their handlers are in Waziristan, not in Nevada . Like their aerial counterparts, they do not ask why they must kill. However, their targets lie among their own people, not in some distant country. Collateral damage does not matter.

The human drone is infinitely better manufactured than its aerial counterpart. The motor, feedback, and control systems have been engineered to high precision by natural evolution over a million years. This drone never misses its target, which could be a mosque, Muslim shrine, hospital, funeral, or market. But military and intelligence headquarters have been targeted with deadly precision as well.

The walking (or driving) drone’s trail is far bloodier than that of the MQ-1B or MQ-9; body parts lie scattered across Pakistan . Detection is almost impossible. The destructive power has steadily increased. The earlier version had a simple bomb strapped on the back but the newer one carries plastic explosives packed into vests both on the front and back of the chest. For additional killing power, the explosives are surrounded with ball bearings and nails. This killing machine is far cheaper than anything General Dynamics can make. Part payment is made by monthly installments to the family, and the rest is in hoor-credits, encashable in janat-al-firdous.

What must be the last thoughts of the bomber as he sits in the eight row of mosque worshippers, moments before he reduces dozens of his fellow Muslims to bloodied corpses? Can he think beyond instrumental terms? As a murder weapon, the human drone has no room for moral judgment, doubt, remorse, or conscience.

Protesting aerial drones

American peace activists, who are men and women of exceptionally good conscience, are outraged. Cindy Sheehan and her colleagues have found a new cause and a new place to be – the drone headquarters at Creech air force base in Nevada is now attracting placard carrying protesters. The CIA headquarters in Langley is also becoming a popular place to visit.

Pakistan too has seen some visible agitation. Given strong anti-drone sentiment, one might have thought that gatherings would attract tens or hundreds of thousands. But, in fact, only a few dozen or few hundred people have turned up at protests, mostly organized by religious right-wing parties. This is because the culture of street protests has essentially disappeared – except on blasphemy and religious sectarian matters. Nevertheless, the small street turnouts do not mask the fact that Pakistan ’s population is perhaps the most anti-American in the world. In fact, surveys show that it exceeds Iran and Cuba in this respect. Drones are one important reason, although there are many other reasons as well.

Silence on the human drone

Vocal as they are about being bombed from the sky, most Pakistanis – including many on the Left – suddenly lose their voice when it comes to the human (Muslim) drone. There appear to be three key reasons.

First, the bomber – even if he kills pious Muslims or those in the act of prayer – sacrifices his life for Islam. Therefore, lest they be regarded as irreligious, people mute their criticism. The bomber receives an Islamic burial together with his victims. But paradoxically, even when a militant group takes credit, many still prefer to believe that the bomber was a Hindu, Jew, or one purchased by Blackwater. For a long time, a myth that the bomber was not circumcised was in circulation.

Second, Pakistan television channels have created a distinctive public psyche. The country feels sharp pain when attacked from outside but feels little or no pain when attacked far more ferociously from inside. On an average day, militants butcher about a dozen ordinary people, policemen, and soldiers. And yet, when 3 soldiers were killed by NATO troops in October 2010, the country erupted in a paroxysm of rage that could not be pacified even after repeated apologies.

Third – and this particularly applies to muddle-headed “anti-imperialists” – suicide bombers get a lower level of condemnation because they are supposedly fighting the American Goliath in some unspecified way. I recall a left-wing rally in Islamabad last year that was called to protest the public flogging of a Swati girl, Chand Bibi. This rapidly turned into an anti-drone rally. Typically the chants at such rallies are: down with religious extremism, down with the Pakistan Army, down with American imperialism, down with the drones…..

While this position of “downing” everyone and everything is laudably pure and pious, it scarcely addresses the question: who shall protect Pakistan ’s population from religious militants, stop the daily dynamiting of girl’s schools and colleges, prevent human bombers from exploding themselves in mosques and markets, and end the slaughter of Shiites? The notion that protection can come from “mobilizing the working class” is laughable. It is irresponsible to think that somehow the fierce onslaught of an army of fascistic holy warriors can be stopped by two dozen earnest people holding colorful placards at the Islamabad Press Club.

  —  The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad

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