A new report from the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic at the New York University School of Law exhaustively details the toll that United States drones are exacting on Pakistani communities. It is the product of two investigation missions to Pakistan and collaboration with the human rights organization Reprieve, and the report features chilling firsthand testimony from individuals, who have been severely impacted by drones employed by the US.
I have already written about what the report details on drone strikes targeting rescuers and funerals. I have published a post on the report’s findings on drone surveillance, the effect that drones in the sky have on the mental health of Pakistanis and how drones breed distrust in communities.
I’ll now highlight findings in the report that shed light on the economic impact—how the US drone war is directly causing poverty.
Researchers involved in the study spoke to a forty-five year-old rural farmer, whose home was destroyed by a drone:
A drone struck my home. . . . I [was at] work at that time, so there was nobody in my home and no one killed. . . . Nothing else was destroyed other than my house. I went back to see the home, but there was nothing to do—I just saw my home wrecked. . . . I was extremely sad, because normally a house costs around 10 lakh, or 1,000,000 rupees [US $10,593], and I don’t even have 5,000 rupees now [US $53]. I spent my whole life in that house . . . my father had lived there as well. There is a big difference between having your own home and living on rent or mortgage. . . . [I] belong to a poor family and my home has been destroyed . . . [and] I’m just hoping that I somehow recover financially.”
Multiple families can be impacted by drone strikes because in North Waziristan, as the report describes, extended families live together in compounds that often contain several smaller individual structures.”
Strikes can do damage to “three or four surrounding houses,” in addition to the target house. This destruction has an incredible effect because “underdevelopment and poverty are particularly stark” in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with “savings, insurance and social safety nets” mostly unavailable
“Primary income earners” are often incapacitated by drone strikes. Men typically provide for families. When they become victims, families lose a key source of income. Children are forced to abandon education and enter the workforce.
Families can rack up gigantic medical bills as a result of surgeries, mental health care or having to stay in the hospital after being injured in strikes. There are no “major emergency medical centers or adequate hospitals in North Waziristan,” which means victims often go to Peshawar and have to journey over “rough terrain” and through “poor security” to get treatment. This can take hours or several days.
…Once there, many ended up in private hospitals, running up bills of several lakhs each (each lakh equivalent to more than US$1000 each), which is many times the average annual income in FATA. Medical bills of this magnitude can have a lasting effect on a victim’s family. Sameer Rahman’s nephew, for example, suffered significant injuries in a strike that took place during the holy month of Ramadan. Family members took him to Peshawar for medical care, but struggled to raise the 280,000 rupees ($2,960) required for his treatment.466 Forced to take out emergency loans, the family has amassed enormous debt and still owes about 100,000 rupees (approximately US $1,058)…
The report highlighted the impact on commerce and economic activities. A college student from North Waziristan told researchers, “Because of these drones, people have stopped coming or going to the bazaars. . . . [I]t has affected trade to Afghanistan.” A shop owner, who sells toys in North Waziristan, shared, “It’s very hard for us, we just barely get by [with what we make in the shop]. . . . People are afraid of dying. They are scared of drones.” Drivers, who used to transport goods, once took jobs for 200 rupees. Now, because of the risks, few are willing to do it for 500 rupees.
Drones can deter people from going to school to get an education so they might have a better future, which only worsens the reality that FATA already has a low literacy rate of just over 17%.
For example, Waleed Shiraz was “disabled in a January 2008 attack that killed his father.” Waleed had been a political science major in college. He “dreamt of either leading some school in Peshawar as a principal or becoming a lawyer or even a politician representing Pakistan.” He was attending the National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad. Then the strike happened:
I can’t dream of going back to college. I am unemployed. No one will give me admission into college and who is going to finance it? We are unemployed and our financial situation is extremely poor. Out of the ten kanals of land we owned [1 ¼ acres], we have sold five [5/8 acres] and the remaining five sit idle because my two younger brothers are too young. They can’t go to school, because I can’t afford supporting them, buying their books, and paying their fees. They are home most of the day and they are very conscious of the fact that drones are hovering over them. [The presence of drones] intimidates them. . . . My education is wasted.
Finally, although previously given attention in an earlier post, there is deep mistrust in communities because of drones. Buying groceries or going to work is no longer the same. Everyone is constantly looking around at people nearby and thinking about whether the person they are standing by will be hit by a drone strike next.
Safdar Dawar, President of the Tribal Union of Journalists, which is “the main association of journalists in the areas affected by US drones,” told researchers how the “shadow of drones” impacts “everyday decisions”:
If I am walking in the market, I have this fear that maybe the person walking next to me is going to be a target of the drone. If I’m shopping, I’m really careful and scared. If I’m standing on the road and there is a car parked next to me, I never know if that is going to be the target. Maybe they will target the car in front of me or behind me. Even in mosques, if we’re praying, we’re worried that maybe one person who is standing with us praying is wanted. So, wherever we are, we have this fear of drones.
Does he look like a person the US would target? Is he a militant? Such is the nightmare that is the US drone war. And it enjoys the support of both candidates running for president, especially President Barack Obama himself, who said today in front of the United Nations, “Understand America will never retreat from the world. We will bring justice to those who harm our citizens and our friends, and we will stand with our allies.”
This is American justice, with President Obama exercising a newly claimed power to decide who lives and who dies in Pakistan based on intelligence that is likely as good as the intelligence that Bush used to imprison prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison. It is quite radical to assert one has the right as president to be judge, jury & executioner-in-chief. And this brand of American justice promotes a fantasy that all killed are “militants” and innocents claiming to be living a nightmare misunderstand or are ungrateful for what the United States is trying to do to bring security and freedom to Pakistan.