Last week I went to Peshawar, Pakistan to visit victims of CIA drone strikes. Deeply affected by the presence of the drones in their communities, they told me how they would have spent the money used to build these weapons of destruction.
Rasul Mana and the Voice of the Drone
Rasul Mana comes from the village of Sirkut Burakhel Supulga in Waziristan. As we meet, he produces from his pocket a sheet of ES-PRAMCIT (Escitalopram), an anti-stress drug that is manufactured in Karachi. There is only one left in the packet of eight.
I come from the village of Sirkut Burakhel Supulga. There are around 40 houses in the village, with perhaps a total of population of 3000 people. I know that’s an average of 75 people crammed into each compound. That’s the way it is. We all live with extended families.
Drones have had a great effect on me. Eighteen people have been killed by them in my village alone. When the drone is 5 km away the sound is very different. It sounds like a missile. As they come closer, it turned into a repetitive humming. Bangana is the word we use for drones. It means bee in Pashtu. I first heard that term in 2005, and the killer bees have been all over us ever since.
The kids know what the voice of the drone now. Every day we hear the voice of the drones at least six or seven times. We listen for the voice 24 hours a day. We are afraid at night as we lie in our beds.
The drones are going around and around over our heads. There may be four or five at any given time. They are normally very high, but sometimes they come down if there is a dust storm or it is cloudy. They also tend to come down lower to attack, which is when you get very scared.
When the missile is launched it makes a loud noise – zzhhooo – as it drops onto its target.
Many of the strikes are in the black of night. We run to where the attack has happened, we see people dead and crying in pain. No matter what time of night, the children will all be awake and crying. When we look for the injured, or pick up the pieces of the dead bodies, we know that the Americans may do another attack. It’s called a Good Samaritan attack, aimed at anyone who tries to help the injured, as they’re assumed to be friends of the original victims, who are themselves assumed to be militants.
People curse the Americans, calling on God to destroy them with flood, lightening, pestilence or any natural disaster.
The Americans put GPS tags in places. Spies put them on their enemies, just people for whom they have animosities. The GPS is half the size of a finger. We call it a Sim card. Something like a UV light comes out of it. The spy sends a note via a satellite phone that the target is tagged.
And then death descends.
Malik Shahzada (pictured right) and the Village Well
Malik Shahzada comes from Sirkut Spulga, a village in Waziristan. A Malik is an official member of the local Jirga. He is responding to what he would do with $60,000, the cost of just one Hellfire missile, such as those the US has used on his village.
I would solve the problems of the water supply in our village. Fixing the whole problem we face would cost perhaps 50 laks (500,000Rs or $50,000). The last time anything was done in the area was 30 years ago and our water is now clearly insufficient for the growing population.
We are short of water for irrigation. But our real problem is drinking water in the home. Still two-fifths of the village get all their water from a well. Those homes with pipes have to use electric pumps for their water supply. Since there is only electricity for two hours a day if we are lucky, most of the time we cannot get water. Still some women have to carry water back to their homes.
Even though it is difficult, we keep clean by hook or by crook. Unlike the people from Sind Province! There is still the pride factor and we get water somehow, no matter what.
The difference that would be made for the price of a Hellfire missile is that we would finally open the taps and there would be running water like normal people in the world, rather than opening the taps and finding nothing.
Noor Khan and the Electric Generator
Noor Khan comes from Khartangi Mseha Madakhel, a village in Waziristan. His father was a Malik who was killed in a notorious drone strike on a local Jirga. Noor is responding to what he would do with $60,000, the cost of just one Hellfire missile, such as those the U.S. has used on his village.
I am from the village of Khartangi Mseha Madakhel in Waziristan. In killing my father at the Jirga on March 17, 2011, the Americans fired two missiles, so perhaps I should be allowed the price of two missiles. My father was a leader of the Jirga, which was trying to settle a local dispute over chromite mining. Nobody there was an extremist but fifty people were killed.
North Waziristan faces the most adversity of any region. The biggest problem for our village is electricity. There is no electricity in the area at all. We use old oil lamps. In winter we go to bed at 8pm after prayers as there is no light.
What do we miss? Well, there’s never been a TV in the village. There’s never been a computer.
It wouldn’t be hard to do something. There is a canal and we could generate hydroelectricity. A generator that would cost no more than $20,000 would give electricity for the entire village. There’s no wiring at all, but the cost of running wires in all the houses would be about $10,000. I doubt the rest of the money would go on poles and running the electricity around the village, so we might have something left over for another project.
What difference would that make to my life? We would know what it is like to sit in the light.
We’d need the extra money too, since we have no running water: all of it from wells. So we could use some more money for running water. Without pumps we cannot have running water and without electricity we have never had pumps. We’d have to put in pipes as well. So that might be the price of the second missile.
Malik Jalal and the Economy
Malik Jalal comes from Mandarkhel, a village in Waziristan. A Malik is an official member of the local Jirga. He is responding to my question: what he would do with $60,000, the cost of just one Hellfire missile, such as those that the U.S. has used on his village.
My profession is to be a member of the region Jirga. I have two sons and one daughter. My sons are seven and five, and my daughter is eight. They each go to small local government schools, the boys to a primary school and my daughter to a secondary school.
The biggest impact of the drones is on our children. The drones make their lives more miserable than death itself. Whatever problems we have in our area, we could deal with ourselves, but we cannot deal with the drones. We can perhaps come to Peshawar; last year, you made it possible for us to come to Islamabad to lodge our complaints there. But we cannot travel the world – we cannot afford go to America or to Europe to tell people what is happening to us.
The next biggest impact on our daily lives is the fact that there is almost no economy any more, because of the danger. There used to be a timber trade. There used to be chromite mining. Our region has various valuable minerals including magnesium and copper. But people are scared to do labour in the area. One day a man was walking along to work in Miranshah, doing nothing bad, and two missiles suddenly rained down on him. Of course he was killed. But he was doing nothing. It makes everyone afraid.
Chromite mining used to be famous in the area, it supplied many jobs. There were 15-20 people driving bulldozers in our region. Now there are only two people operating bulldozers. People are afraid that the Americans will think that bulldozers are somehow linked with the extremists. Four miners were killed on the day before Tariq Aziz died in October 2011. A total of forty miners have been killed in the area. Chromite used to be such a big part of trade that locals also think that the US wants us to fail economically. Perhaps Americans want us to stay deprived.
Before the drones came, most of the men were employed in factories, mining or in timber, for about 300 rupees a day (about $3). Our annual income was about $900 a year. Since the drone attacks, the employment has got much worse. Everyone wants to relocate to Dubai or the Emirates, where they can find work as drivers or labourers. Most male family members want to do this. Our society is just draining away.
Finding a job has been much harder since the drone attack on the Jirga [on March 17th, 2011). There were a number of civil servants killed there, a total of more than fifty people.
Al Qaida, the Afghan Taliban – they are not in the area. In Afghanistan the Americans only control the cities, and even then, barely. The vast majority of the country is under control of the Taliban. So why would they come to Waziristan? They don’t need to. There are not many extremists in our area, and we are perfectly capable of dealing with them. But we can hardly do anything when the Americans will kill anyone who moves, anyone with a beard who even looks like he might have a gun.
I understand that each Hellfire missile costs about $60,000. The first thing I’d do with that money would be to spend some on the water system. Water is the biggest problem. We do have some pipes but we have virtually no electricity, so the pumps don’t work and the pipes are useless. Most of the water has to come from wells. We bring it about a kilometre to our houses in donkey bags.
Second, I’d build a school, a school for both girls and boys. But I’m not sure anything would make up for the damage that we’ve done to the children, and to the families who no longer have someone around to feed the family.
Mohammed Iqbal and the New School
Mohammed Iqbal comes from Darpa Khel, in Waziristan. Mohammed is responding to what he would do with $60,000, the cost of just one Hellfire missile, such as those the U.S. has used on Darpa Khel.
I live in Darpa Khel. It is quite a large town of around 40,000 people. I am superintendent of the vaccination section of the Medical Department.
Our area is very underdeveloped, and with the price of a Hellfire missile -- $60,000 – we could take some big steps forward.
I’d build a school. Right now we have two schools for the whole town, and they’re not well funded. For my new school the whole building – with eight classrooms – would cost no more than $10,000 to build. Ideally, each classroom would need 20 computers for the children, and we could do all that (160 in total) for about $16,000. Then we’d need eight teachers, and they would cost about $1,200 each a year, so that would be another $9,600.
That would be all that we’d need, really, and it would be no more than about $36,000. We’d keep a couple more years’ salary for the teachers, and we’d still have $4,000 over, and for that we could get the best playground in Waziristan, good enough for all the kids in Darpa Khel.
The Americans think we’re all backwards and won’t let our girls go to school. That’s not true at all. In fact, in 2011 it was a Hellfire missile that destroyed the girls’ school in Miranshah. I actually witnessed the missile striking that time. Fortunately none of the students were there at the time, though the custodian was killed. The Americans hit it again just recently, on April 30, 2012, saying that it was being used by militants, but that wasn’t true.
It a little ironic that the Americans think the Taliban destroy schools for girls, but actually it was the US Hellfire missile that did it.
- These testimonies also appeared in The Times, 25/05/2012