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Drones aren't the only killing machines


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Illustration by Eefa Khalid/

It is easy to get angry at Obama – angry at why he’s crying over the recent tragic deaths of children in America but is unmoved over the deaths of those who become victims to his drone program in Pakistan. But Obama is far away and the understanding between Pakistan and USA over the drone strikes is out of our reach as well. We can protest and wave pictures of deceased children as much as we want but fact remains that all this is not enough for our military and governments to change their plans. America has enemies in Pakistan and Pakistan is allowing America to target them – why Pakistan itself isn’t doing the deed, that’s clearly a different debate. Are children dying in America’s targeted attacks? Yes they are. Do they have names or profiles or memorials? No, they are collateral damage. Enough said.

And while we are so busy getting angry at drones for killing our children, we forget, we are doing the same as well. Eight people working to immunise children against polio in Pakistan have been shot dead since the start of a UN-backed three-day nationwide vaccination campaign on Monday.

Four women were killed in less than an hour in seemingly coordinated attacks in Karachi on Tuesday, a day after a man working on a local government-World Health Organisation (WHO) project was also shot dead in the city. A sixth worker, also a woman, was killed on Tuesday in Peshawar. A woman from a polio vaccination team and a driver associated with the program were killed during an attack on the team in Charsadda today.

In result of these attacks, the WHO has directed its field staff to stop work in Pakistan until further instructions.

How can we then channel all our anger and frustration at what’s happening in Waziristan when the condition in our own neighbourhoods is just as alarming? Along with demanding an end to killings of innocent children by drone attacks, we also need to protest and act against the senseless killings of children in other parts of the country.

Workers vaccinating children against the crippling disease are being targeted and killed and instead of ensuring security and using all resources to catch these criminals, we will instead see the halt of a campaign that could have saved the lives of so many children. And mind you, children are not the only victims in this senseless war against immunization. Workers as young as 14 being killed is no less tragic either.

The government lays stress on the youth of Pakistan and how this youth has the power to change the country and lead it towards success. Why then does the government have no way to secure the lives of this youth it likes to gloat about?

Last year, militants attacked a school bus on the Kohat road in the suburbs of Peshawar. Four children and the driver of the bus were killed and 14 other children were injured. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the attack and said it wanted to punish families of the children for organising anti-Taliban militias. Thus, revenge was carried out by targeting innocent young children. We didn’t see anyone arrested for that attack either or the several similar ones that followed.

The Taliban's attempt to kill teenaged activist Malala Yousafzai is known worldwide as well. Who is rotting in jail for that attack?

Thousands of school children have been displaced along with their families from areas across the tribal belt where the Taliban have established sanctuaries for themselves.

Already suffering from insecurity and displacement, thousands more have been deprived of an education while militants carry out attacks on schools. Whether their agenda is against the teachings of a secular education or whether it is against the notion of girls going to school – very little has been done to halt such attacks.

According to a BBC report, a United Nations report on the issue, released in April 2012, says that at least 57 children were killed in Pakistan during 2011 alone - mainly by landmine explosions, roadside bombs, shelling and targeted attacks. This figure would be much higher if casualties from the country's unending sectarian attacks are included.

Those children who the militants do not kill by targeted attacks are being recruited as suicide bombers. The UN's 2012 report has recorded 11 incidents in Pakistan during 2011 in which teenage boys, some as young as 13, were used by armed groups to carry out suicide attacks.

Be it polio or be it education, the militants existing in Pakistan (and not arriving from elsewhere through drones) are finding numerous ways to cause misery and death to the children of Pakistan. Their warped justifications are enough for them to think they can carry out such heinous crimes against children and use them as targets and human bombs to settle scores.

In various rhetorical speeches, Pakistani leaders have stated that such attacks cannot shake the resolve of the government. What resolve? The government can’t even protect its own leaders and institutions; can we really rely on them to protect our children? Can we expect them to part with their enormous security entourages and instead lend some personnel to our educational institutions and health worker teams? Instead of hoping for them to increase the meager education budget can they instead part with some funds just to strengthen the existing institutions?

Without the security of life and basic health and education, the youth of Pakistan will have very little to contribute to the country – perhaps the government should think of that the next time it publicly voices the unrealistic expectations it harbours.


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 (34) Closed

anon Dec 20, 2012 06:31am
Taliban are Pakistani army's secret weapon gone wrong. The army hopes to recontrol it in future.
AHA Dec 20, 2012 12:36am
The only solution is to somehow put the ginnie of religion back in the bottle, so that people can put their heads on top of their heads again, and not make the type of argument that you are.
Cyrus Howell Dec 19, 2012 02:09pm
The Pakistan government has asked America for drones of it's own, for the very reason you suggest. Fly your PPP drones and put a Pak flag on them.
Khanm Dec 19, 2012 12:45pm
If I am not mistaken during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto era the army and air force were used to smoke out the rebellious from the mountains in Baluchistan. Why it can
mawish Dec 19, 2012 05:31pm
Bottomline remains: This US war on terror has only increased extremism and polarization in society, rather than the opposite. People like to talk about these things and give 50 page analysis, but no one talks SOLUTION. The only solution is to disengage from US WOT, have honest, credible leadership at the helm of affairs, improve governance, invest in our people, educate and feed them, and provide them justice. Unless this does not happen, people will continue to write long analysis and the situation on ground will only get worse.
imran ali Dec 19, 2012 05:17pm
Then who killed the 4 female vaccinators? we never accept the fact
Cyrus Howell Dec 19, 2012 01:41pm
"It is easy to get angry at Obama
AHA Dec 20, 2012 12:37am
Imram - I totally agree with you. We CAN never accept facts.
peddarowdy Dec 20, 2012 07:29am
Collateral damage. That too with Pakistani military approval. Ask not why the US is using the Drones, but why the Pakistani Military is not shooting them down.
peddarowdy Dec 20, 2012 07:27am
There are no US drones in Somalia, but Al Qaeda has gained ground. There is no US intervention in Syria or Libya, but Muslims are killing Muslims in the name of Islam. In the 1990s, the US had nothing to do with Pakistan, yet the likes of LeT and LeJ and SSP and JeM were formed. Blaming US is the easy way out.. Muslim world has a problem that nobody is willing to admit.
anon Dec 20, 2012 06:29am
The reason is that Pakistani army wants to use them in Afghanistan and Kashmir later!!
peddarowdy Dec 20, 2012 07:22am
Would US launch Drones(that too with tacit approval from Pakistani military) if there were no Terrorists in Tribal areas? Isn't it their duty to kill any if they pose a threat to their own citizens? After all Pakistani Army has capabilities to shoot them down and hence, have given their tacit approval. Ask not what the US is doing, but what the Pakistani Army is not..
Imran Dec 19, 2012 06:15pm
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack. What more proof do you want. The author's "we" implies that we as a nation are killing our own vaccinators. "We" may be a lot of bad things but we are not murderers of this calibre. There is little doubt that US spying in the guise of vaccination was the main motivation behind the recent killings.
Rain Dec 19, 2012 12:34pm
Anony Dec 19, 2012 03:24pm
well said
Pramod Dec 19, 2012 11:55am
@Razi, The main problem is Pak Army does not want to take any damage(Read action) against terrorist for strategic depth or what ever other reason. Drone were not started in 2002 when US attacked taliban in AF. they were started in 2004 when NATO saw no action from Pak army . How long they could watch helplessly from other side of the border that the attacker are sitting in safe heavens.
Azmat Dec 20, 2012 12:57am
The only solution we seem to have found is to kill our own women & children when we are angry. Are we surprised? look at the the direction our human development index has gone, decades of neglect by successive leadership that we elect or tolerate. Does any one care ? ask yourself, if you did, what are you doing in your own capacity? capitulating & submitting to the extremists.
Kami Dec 20, 2012 01:27am
A very well written piece nothing could be closer to the truth. To @ghaleezguftar, the waziri influx is in plain sight in Karachi and Taliban are increasing their strength at every passing day. MQM was right from the start when they raised the alarm. The army would and should launch a full fledged operation unless there is unanimous resolution passed for it in the National Assembly. All parties should come together on this , the last attempt was shot down by PML-N. It could not be that millitary is doing an operation and in the media they are being scorned for attacking their own countrymen. No way, the people should make clear distinction between right and wrong. An overwhelming majority should demand operation, not the half hearted moans that we see today.
Adam Smith Dec 20, 2012 01:44am
I really don't understand why Pakistan allows for the Taliban to remain in their country? If Pakistan wants to stop US Drone strikes, then why not get rid of the Taliban?
Razi Haider Dec 19, 2012 11:20am
@Shyema Sajjad Ideologically drones are something we should never support. Instead Pak army should go in those and take some damage in order to save children and women. But Pak army, I do not know for what political reason, is not willing to go and start an operation in North Waziristan Killing of innocent people in Karachi should not convince us to support killing innocent children in Waziristan. Cheers
Thiru Dec 19, 2012 11:23am
Well written - improving primary and secondary education and vocational courses independent of religious and political idealogy is the salvation for the subcontinent but for both similar and different reasons not attended to by all four countries.
infidel Dec 20, 2012 02:19am
They were balochs. But these guys are our guys
trudy Dec 19, 2012 07:11pm
Check out the Stanford / NYU and Columbia University studies. Google "Noor Behram" whose photography at the sites of the drone attacks has documented the deaths of 178 children and 640 women.
raika45 Dec 19, 2012 02:04pm
How many of you if asked that the Partition was a bad idea and that you would be better of if you had stayed united with India, raise your hands.
pathanoo Dec 19, 2012 07:22pm
Drones kill less innocent people in a year than the terrorists are killing in a day. America is trying to get to it's declared enemies and innocent people are unfortunate and regrettable casualties. BUT WHAT IS THE TERRORISTS' (TALIBAN, AL QAEDA, TTP) EXCUSE FOR KILLING iNNOCENT PAKISTANIS INCLUDING WOMEN AND CHILDREN WHO ARE TARGETED? ANY DEFENDESRS?
Naseer Dec 20, 2012 04:36am
With courts making the Lal Masjid incident a controversy, the army and government are unwilling to take any action against any extremists. People saying that Taliban terrorism is in response to drone attacks are either living in fool's paradise or have sympathies with Taliban. How can we justify killing innocent women who were actually providing a service to our children. How can we justify attacks on school buses and on Malala or Pakistan's armed forces. Taliban have accepted responsibilities for all these incidents. Sadly they use the name of Islam for their political benefit. Although what they do is completely against Islam. Taliban are the greatest threat to our country and to Islam.
Feroz Dec 19, 2012 12:21pm
You have casually strolled into the realms of conjecture by assuming that children have been killed by drones. Neither the Taliban or the Military has allowed anyone including Politicians to visit any Drone hit site till today. On the rare occasion people have been allowed near those sites is after it has been sanitized of all evidence. Why ? This business of propaganda without a shred of evidence is lamentable. Have you bothered to ask the more important question of how many Taliban leaders has the military apprehended in the last 10 years in FATA and the real reason for such poor statistics. Yes, we all know that journalists are in extreme danger in Pakistan though the jury is still out on who is the bigger threat to them.
ghaleezguftar Dec 19, 2012 12:26pm
oh come on! i bet i have read this apologist rant a thousand times! always writing "we are killing..." remember events like shakil afridi? people dont trust any campaign which is US backed and similarly the USAID or other NGOs dont worry about using these hardworking people for their benefit! and yes i would seriously be apprehensive and refuse if somebody comes to my house and tells me that i should take a drug which will turn me into superman! you would too! about taliban taking responsibility, if one would trust them they would agree with them but im not willing to take every nonsense they are ready to give whenever there is an incident. there are no taliban in karachi. period. there is MQM, ANP and PPP. period 2!
Cyrus Howell Dec 19, 2012 01:56pm
Journalists are always in danger in a civil war. Only when armies meet in international conflicts are there rules. There is talk of Bashar Assad using poison gas in the Syrian civil war. It is banned by the Geneva conventions - but this is not a world war. In Pakistan the Taliban, militants, nationalists and criminal gangs do not fight in uniform. in Egypt the criminal street gangs were absorbed by the Ministry of the Interior to get them off the streets. It was there only solution. If you can't fight them - pay them. Pakistan is about to finally be forced to solve it's problems, and journalists will be lucky if the streets are safe enough for employees to physically report to their newspapers and print them..
Cyrus Howell Dec 19, 2012 01:58pm
After the war is over in Pakistan that can all be done during reconstruction.
Naseer Dec 20, 2012 09:46pm
Some people say that Pakistan was created to cater for the Muslim feudal lords in reaction to Patel's announcement that feudal system will be abolished in India immediately after independence. But this is something that is useless to discuss. We should rather concentrate on what to do now.
bmurray Dec 23, 2012 05:03pm
You are a perfect example of your countries problem. Paranoia
bmurray Dec 23, 2012 05:08pm
Not credible.
bmurray Dec 23, 2012 04:53pm
Wow! You are proof of your own governments neglect. Most of the solutions you provide are obvious solutions that are very easy to write down. You have to form a plan for each of your solutions (how to improve governance, investing in your people -- with what resources, etc...), but how is disengaging from outside assistance going to change things in your country? Please think long and hard first.