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Obama's Warbirds


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Illustration by Eefa Khalid

“For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we’re already engaging in.”

These words were spoken yesterday when US president Barack Obama made a public admission confirming that the US drone aircraft have struck Taliban and Al Qaeda targets within Pakistan. A fact widely known is now being admitted to prove that President Obama is no less powerful than his predecessor and if continuing wars is what it takes to make this power greater, so be it. But to win the hearts, minds and perhaps votes of his nation, Obama’s drone strikes are making sure that while conflict in such countries continues, American lives, the soldiers, are not lost. In what some call the coward’s war, it is safe to assume that without any risk, there will be very little restraint in widespread use of this technology.

But the use of these aircraft brings very important questions to surface; Are drone strikes any less intrusive than sending troops in? Are they not cross border violations? Are they not violating domestic and international laws? More than anything else, are they not making the world a more dangerous place by rapidly creating a man versus machine battlefield?

Once other countries start acquiring this technology and unilaterally decide to target countries that they feel are threats to their security – what will happen? Won’t the US then become the torch-bearer of initiating armed conflict all over the world?

As opposed to a soldier assigned to a check-post sitting in freezing weather, keeping an eye out for infiltration, the new “soldiers” are sitting behind computer screens, sipping coffee perhaps while they operate the drones. Once these operators have completed their targets for the day, they will return to their homes, uninjured and alive. There is no man-to-man engagement. There are no scars.

A leading robot expert writes: Some critics have worried that UAV operators - controlling drones from half a world away - could become detached and less caring about killing, given the distance, and this may lead to more unjustified strikes and collateral damage.

In his admission, Obama also said drones had “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties”. Well how many civilian deaths does it take to make the number significant? Ten? Twenty? How many until it starts mattering to you? President Obama, how many civilians are the drones killing to get to the “list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on.” Where is the transparency and where is the accountability? If anything, unmanned aircraft are only going to make it easier to diminish the notion of accountability for the United States of America, the world’s number one arms-exporting nation.

William J. Astore, a retired US lieutenant colonel writes: When it comes to investing in militaries and weaponry, no country can match us. We are supreme.  And despite talk of modest cuts to the Pentagon budget over the next decade, it will, according to President Obama, continue to grow, which means that in weapons terms the future remains bright.

What more can you really expect then from a country that sells weapons for profit and without consideration of how those weapons might be used. For how long will the US continue to flash the Abbottabad raid and the numerous killings of Hakimullah Mehsud as justifications for the thousands of civilian deaths it has caused world over? For a country that has launched and is still launching numerous wars in the aftermath of 9/11, I suppose the answer is, for a very long time.

Pakistan is no stranger to the use of America’s unmanned aircrafts. The government once in a while says “Bad drone strikes!”, but the nation knows better than that. The silent “handshake agreement” over the drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas has caused the civilian population to protest and demonstrate – but that barely makes a difference. On one hand, the US talks about dialogue with the Taliban and on the other hand it shoots off their special robots to wipe them out – along with “some civilians” in the process (as perhaps Obama would say). Calling those civilians collateral damage is not enough. Fooling the world into believing that it is in the interest of greater goods is not acceptable either. There are no victors in war. America, which has known war so well and for so long, should know that better than any other nation. In war, your damage will be our damage and our damage will ultimately be yours.

America, you take your civilian deaths very seriously, heck you even have a hard time accepting deaths of troops who are killed in wars launched by YOU – so why the double standard here? And you wonder why you are not liked – whether you are sending in your machines, or whether you are sending in your troops, you are killing innocent Pakistanis in the process too. You are violating our borders and just because our government is not strong enough to stand its ground and just because our military likes your aid does not mean the common man is on board with your hypocritical plans.

Make the death toll transparent. Tell us how many militants you killed and how many civilians. Tell us why people in Waziristan claim to have lost their children because of you and explain to us why the Pakistani government is paying compensation to families of victims killed by your aircraft? Once you start answering some questions and taking some responsibility, perhaps the perception on your wars may change… but until innocent children in every part of the world keep dying just because your country feels threatened, I doubt anything will change.

The writer is the Deputy Editor at

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Shyema Sajjad is a former Dawn staffer.

She tweets @ShyemaSajjad

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (29) Closed

Ravi Feb 01, 2012 12:21pm
"Tell us how many militants you killed and how many civilians" does the author expect the US government to do this ? I doubt if US government officials will be allowed to count and verify casualties in the frontier areas of Pakistan !
Anonym Feb 01, 2012 12:45pm
The electro-mechanical automaton is fighting a bio-mechanical automaton. So no it is not a man vs machine war. The location of a future man vs machine war will be somewhere in west not afpak. That drone strikes have less collateral damage than other competing methods is a fact. Militants are now spending more time planing to protecting themselves then planning to kill others. That seems to be a huge problem for some commentators.
ali Feb 01, 2012 01:11pm
Keep enjoying drone strikes..........Such a pathetic, pitiable, graceless, humiliated're safe heaven for terrorists and terrorism.....
Doritos Feb 01, 2012 01:12pm
ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!! I hope the whole Obama Administration gets a good look at this article. You're a great writer Shyema Sajjad.
leo Feb 01, 2012 02:06pm
Why there is no statement from COAS Kayani on this blatant admission by Obama???
shankar Feb 01, 2012 02:30pm
Civialian casualities are very sad indeed! However thw war on terror is not easy on the countries that are fighting terrorism. They have to deal with an enemy without a face, who mingles with the civilian poulation freely, uses civilians as cover and also blows up civilians to smithers at his own will. These trrorist monsters respect no borders. They create havoc in their country and also walk over the borders and create havoc in their neghbouring countries. Under these dangerous circumstances usage of drones seem to be a good option. Don't forget that many more civilians have died of terror attacks than drone attacks.
Muhammad Farooq Feb 01, 2012 07:13pm
they have been using drone attacks and now they have started dialogues with Talibans, let the drones be replaced with dialogues for permanent peace, security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.
David Feb 01, 2012 09:43pm
Dear Shyema Sajjad, What would you hae us do? Allow these terrorists to plot and attack us in USA and any where else in the world with impunity and shower them with Christian charity as a reward for murdering us? NO. We need to kill these evil beasts. The civilian deaths are definitely regrettable and US has done it's best to minimize them. Any innocent life lost is one too many. If Pakistan had done it's job of keeping these terrorists out of the country you would not be seeing these drones over Pakistan and violating your so called "SOVERIGNTY" which the terrorists are raping with impunity.
Jhana Feb 01, 2012 10:40pm
there is a simple solution to this situation. Pakistan needs to take on the terrorists and rid the country of them, all by itself. They are killing many times more people than are a few drones, yet you would rather focus on drones than our own failure as a nation to clean out these monsters. Why?
AAJ Feb 01, 2012 11:06pm
International law gives this right to nations... if a sovereign nation cannot prevent terrorists from attacking other countries, then the affected countries have the right to retaliate. The US does not have to just sit like ducks in Afghanistan while the Taliban cross the border to fight, and yet have little risk of death in Pakistan, when they return to train and rest. As to civilian casualties, 2 points. a) Was there not an air strike against 31 Taliban by the PAF, just yesterday? Were there no civilian casualties? b) Drones stay in the region for hours, undetected. They can be much more certain of who is who. A PAF fighter flies in at high speed, is given a target, and takes it out. They do not stay in the region very long to verify casualties. So, if drones cause one less death than a fighter strike, or an artillery strike, or a village to village ground conflict where thousands are displaced, then they are well worth it. Pakistan has a cancer and drones are delivering chemotherapy.
Vijay Feb 01, 2012 11:09pm
Dear Shyema, I undertsand you passion and pain at the loss your country is suffering. But if you put aside grief and think logically, answer my points. COWARDS WAR - if drone strikes are cowardly, what do you call suicide bombings by minor children, burqua clad women, posing as civilians, journalists etc, attacking and then hiding among civilians etc is also cowardice and it was first started by whom??. CROSS BORDER VIOLATIONS - What about people trained in those tribal areas fanning around world to fight their so called holy wars, do you see any CB Violations here?? DRONE OPERATORS - If you had issue with them sitting behind comp screens, sipping coffee and striking , what about the suicide bobbers who casually walk in to markets and just press a switch, at least those operators are trying to find correct targets. DEATH TOLL - If you really wanted to know hte death toll, then allow the world/ media to visit your areas, why that secrecy, if it is only civilians. Do even you have the guts to visit fata, then how do you expect other to do?? INNOCENT CIVILIANS - if a innocent father/mother/brother of a terrorist are gracious enough to allow him in to their house, feed him after he has committed a grave crime of training young suicide bombers, flogging women etc, then those innocent people are no more innocent. Lets assume out of 1000 people in fata 100 are militants and rest are INNOCENT, the inncent have a responsibility of controlling those bad people, else they have to face consequences as they let them live in their midst and directly/indirectly support their actions. So my conclusion here is the US is just paying back in the same coin, iam not saying its right, but just that the enemy is equally bad and started first. SO instead of criticizing them it woule you can help the whole situation by trying to educate those INNOCENT people of their indirect mistakes. CAN YOU DO IT???
Tarun Feb 01, 2012 11:54pm
With the 5th biggest army of world, still Pakistan cannot save its territory’s, then is the army only for India? The poor Indians are suffering from past 60 years first from the threat of Pakistan army, ISI and now under daily threat of terrorists attaqck backed by Pakistan. How come that still Pakistan cannot get rid of terrorist even after millions of euro/dollar paid by the world. Then why complain when any nation takes charge in their hand to get rid of menace called terrorism. There are no free lunch.
Abhi Feb 02, 2012 12:11am
The reason why US is taking out terrorists on Pakistani soil is that the Pakistani army is refusing to clean up their house. You can keep your house as dirty as you want but if you start stinking up the neighborhood someone is going to take action.
Dip Feb 02, 2012 12:16am
The only people who can stop these attacks by the USA are the Pakistanis. Take care of the terrorists within your borders, stop your security apparatus from exporting terrorism and leave the USA no excuse to attack.
Agha Ata Feb 02, 2012 02:00am
I am confused. What is a coward's war, anyway? When guns were used the first time, the sword users called it a cowards war, too. When planes were used to drop bombs, the gun users also called it a coward's war. And now we have drones, so this is another coward’s war. Tomorrow the drones technology will be available to braves, and all brave fighters will wait for yet another scientific step to be labeled as a weapon of coward's war.
Mohammad A Dar Feb 02, 2012 02:18am
Obama can be proud of his drone terrorism against innocent Muslims, Why? because double faced so called Muslim leader ship in Muslim countries is a quiet participants in his terrorism against their own people. How about taking care of criminals at home and than pointing fingers at others.
Mohammad A Dar Feb 02, 2012 02:53am
If one does not like reaction, he should not take action in illegality. Oppressed has God given right to retaliate in kind. One need not to deny truth absolute to oth ers, if they do not like to be treated in same manors.
jalaluddin S. Hussai Feb 02, 2012 03:52am
Entering into serious dialogue with the Taliban would be more constructive, in the long run, than killing mostly innocent Afghans and Pakistanis, with robotic drones!
Bharat Feb 02, 2012 04:13am
Beyond this article, all this business is causing a problem for Pakistan itself - More and more it is starting to look like North Korea...If not now, certainly when US aid stops altogether in 2 years time
Zog Feb 02, 2012 05:36am
I saw video of Afghan Taliban forcing women in villages to stand on rooftops when UAV's were spotted overhead. As if it was not enough they take food and supplies from poor villagers at gunpoint. How many Pakistani Taliban hide behind the civilian population as well? In my opinion, if you don't bomb planes, you don't bomb hotels, you don't protect IED factories, you don't harbor the world's most reviled terrorist... then you don't have to worry about drone strikes. If you do, then all bets are off the table.
Abhi Feb 02, 2012 10:18am
Drone attacks...Its needed, right intelligence and target, hit those who kills innocents, even those who does suicide blasts shold be shown the same way..
Vinod Feb 02, 2012 11:07am
Its amazing that writer spends so much energy on analysis of validity of drones. These are only effects. Root cause is safe havens provided to the terrorists. Would someone spend energy analyzing the cause and people behind sponsoring the cause please?
Sitara Feb 02, 2012 01:44pm
It is again USA who forced our previous governments to provide safe heavens to the militants in order to dismember USSR It is certainly USA behind all this faulty practice going on
Tarun Feb 02, 2012 02:45pm
Obama should feel ashamed for saying and the Pakistani govt. should burry it self in hell for letting it happen. How come nothing is done till yet to stop drone attacks. What is the use of Army/ISI. Are they meant to get paid to bring this shame to nation? why ask Obama, ask your own leaders? If their are criminals in USA are they threateing other nations, it is internal matter of USA. Other hand it is Pakistan's problem to stop any one using its territory's.
Musharraf Feb 02, 2012 03:52pm
Writing comments will not stop drone attacks and Pakistan is not in a position to stop drone attacks.A country which is dependent on other country for it's defence cannot do anything.Without Chinese support Pakistan cannot survive.
Sam Feb 02, 2012 04:53pm
bang on... and one way or another the action is inevitable..
Observer1 Feb 02, 2012 10:58pm
You are NOT fair in accusing the US for protecting its interests and citizens by any means. Pakistan’s Military is accountable for the protection of its own people, NOT the US. US drones are NOT the cowards. Cowardice lies nearer home. The people of Pakistan need to charge their Government and Military with cowardice and treason in the face of foreign military invasion and death of Pakistan’s citizens. Stop blaming the US. The US Military is bravery fighting its wars as designed. Pakistan’s Military is hiding for lack of vision, daring, courage, and fortitude. If you value the freedom and honor...stand up and fight. Stop blaming others.
Chris Feb 04, 2012 05:56am
Fear of terrorist's taking over a nuclear nation filled with chaos and instability seems more real than drones. Especially when that country is in denial. No investigators to Mubai? No ability or desire to police it's own borders? Drones look silly compared to the trouble caused in neighboring countries and Nukes going off. The fear should be much closer to home.
Mustafa Feb 05, 2012 12:11am
You are lucky, the moderators allowed your post. Unfortunately, what you said is truth even if I do not like to hear it.