Editor’s note: Mirza Shahzad Akbar is Reprieve legal fellow in Pakistan, director and founder of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, and a practicing human rights lawyer in Islamabad. He represents a number of families of victims affected by drone strikes.
Islamabad (CNN) — On Tuesday, the United States votes to elect its next president. For Americans, the choice is about which candidate will improve the economy, healthcare, the employment rate and ensure better living standards.
However, for Pakistani citizens living in the country’s northwest, especially for the 800,000 people in the tribal region of Waziristan, the American election is a question of life and death.
Malik Jalal Khan lives in Datta Khel, a small town in North Waziristan, and is an elder of the Mada Khel tribe. He told me that more than 200 people from his tribe have been killed through the CIA-run clandestine drone program in the last seven years.
Thanks to Pakistani local channels which translated all three presidential debates into Urdu, Malik Jalal has paid close attention to every word uttered by President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.
Just like these candidates, Malik Jalal is also responsible for the wellbeing of his people. He has to ensure that his tribe’s young have stable jobs, children can go to school and sick people are treated in the best possible way. Malik Jalal listened very carefully when Obama said he would further strengthen health care, improve employment, raise taxes on the rich and improve public education. Such promises were doubled by Romney, who said that he would do even better if elected president.
The Folly of Drone Attacks and U.S. Strategy
Islamabad (CNN) — On March 17, 2011 a drone attack killed at least 40 members of a Wazir tribal Jirga, which was resolving a land ownership dispute among sub-tribes in Waziristan, a mountainous region in northwest Pakistan, according to local media reports.
The reports claimed the Jirga was not the intended target and the predator was chasing a car before finally executing five people without any trial or due process near the Jirga. While this predator was hovering in the area, sophisticated cameras allegedly picked up images of a bigger gathering. Without appearing to have any intelligence or knowledge of its target, it fired four more missiles at the congregation.
In the same month, a joint investigation by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Sunday Times newspaper cited Pakistan’s military commander in Waziristan at the time, Brigadier Abdullah Dogar: “We in the Pakistan military knew about the meeting, we’d got the request 10 days earlier. It was held in broad daylight, people were sitting out in Nomada bus depot when the missile strikes came. Maybe there were one or two Taliban at that Jirga — they have their people attending — but does that justify a drone strike which kills 42 mostly innocent people?”
There should never be doubts. A big gathering in Waziristan does not mean they must be Taliban.
To put it in perspective: My clients say drone attacks are now happening almost twice a week on Pakistani soil.
Another Update From Islamabad
Judy Bello, reports from the 2012 Pakistan delegation
It’s midnight and I should be sleeping. I’ve just received my tea from room service, and settled in to contemplate the day. I woke late, the last leg of recovery from jet lag. Slept through the alarm and found myself showered and dressed in time to gulp a cup of tea before heading out. Today was a a ‘free’ day for the most part. Tomorrow will be filled with intense discussion, as yesterday was. But when you are traveling with a group, even a free day has to start at some defined moment. Today I will see the city.
Most of the group went for a walk in the countryside this morning, but Leah and I went with Shahzad’s assistants to the Lok Virsa Museum of Pakistani Culture and Folklore. Along the way, I realized that my early impressions of the city were skewed by incorrect assumptions along with the darkness of night and my exhaustion from the trip. The city is a small city, of only about 400,000 people. It was built, pretty much from scratch, during the 60s. The small airport serves a small city. Most of the roads have medians, which in daylight, give a sense of openness to the city.
Homes are generally set within walls, and government buildings set far back from the road. The city is utilitarian, but not impoverished. It was built to house government and military centers, and the people who work there. There is a generally affluent middle class culture with many new homes under construction, large, flat roofed cement structures with high ceilings, ornate windows and doors, balconies and walled courtyards that will house the family car along with a garden. Workers are often transients who come from somewhere else and live in temporary housing on or off the property where they work.
First Day In Islamabad (Pre-delegation Group)
Leah, Suzie, Judy, Ron and I have had a very useful first day. 4 of us got into Islamabad this morning. We had lunch with Shahzad and his great team at the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, then the BBC interviewed Shahzad and Ann and took footage of our group for a program that will air next Thursday night.
We are off to the office of Acid Survivors Foundation as acid being thrown on women and children is tragically big in Pakistan. Tomorrow we meet with an organization on human trafficking and using girls as compensation for debts and then with the head of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Sunday we will see some of the city and environs and then had a press conference with Inram Kahn. Monday is our presentation “Drones Endanger US National Security” at the Institute for Strategic Studies and then a panel at the Capitol Institute of Law.
Meetings keep popping up so who knows what else will be added. As of today the march is still on and Shahzad is talking with everyone to confirm all the details.
We look forward to seeing the rest of the delegation soon!