The consequences of civilian killings by US drones, and the causes of exponential rise in terrorism in Pakistan after 9/11.

The world has reacted with outrage and grief over the December 16 killings of 148 people by the Pakistani Taliban in Peshawar. One hundred and thirty-two schoolchildren were among the victims. US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack and supported the government of Pakistan. Thousands of candles were lit by citizens in cities across the world.

Even the Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated: “The intentional killing of innocent people, children and women are against the basics of Islam and this criteria has to be considered by every Islamic party and government.” A major splinter group of the TTP (Tahrik-e-Taliban) – Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA) also publicly condemned the attack, calling it “un-Islamic, inhuman and unethical”. Despite the criticism, the TTP Khurasani group has taken the responsibility of the ferocious massacre.

What has produced these violent savages called the Pakistani Taliban who do not have mercy for innocent school children belonging to their own religion and race? To understand the complex phenomena which gave birth to the Pakistani Taliban, three key elements should be analysed: the US-Pakistan alliance for war on terror in the aftermath of 9/11, the US drone attacks killing large number of civilians in tribal areas, and the role of pro-American Pakistani civil and military rulers who initially allowed the air strikes against their own citizens.

As far as terrorism in Pakistan is concerned, sectarian and ethnic violence could be seen even before 9/11, but the scale of the violence has been exponentially amplified since then. Before 9/11, there was only one suicide attack in 55 years — the 1995 attack on the Egyptian Embassy by Al-Qaeda, where 15 people were killed. In the decade following 9/11, a total of 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed by 3,486 bomb blasts, and 381 major suicide attacks. More than 3.5 million people have been displaced from 2004 till 2013, and US drones hit Pakistan’s Federal and tribal Administered Areas (FATA) 361 to 387 times in order to hit Al Qaeda targets, killing around 3,000 people. Only 84 people have been identified as members of Al-Qaeda. Before the US covert drone campaign, there was no such organisation as TTP, even though the general population of tribal areas largely used to support Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban.

What accelerated and provoked the anti-Pakistan sentiments in the tribal areas was the most cold-blooded yet distinctly the least-reported drone attack — a 2006 air strike on a religious school in Bajur, South Waziristan that killed up to 69 children. According to the American Broadcasting Company, the attack was launched by a MQ-1 predator, with Ayman Al-Zawahari as its intended target, but no high level target was found. It has been alleged that Pakistan army helicopters were also present in a token support of the action. Under political pressure, the Pakistani army took responsibility for the disaster stating, “We did it for our security rather than US.” Later, international media revealed that it was a CIA drone attack.

Following the attack, tribal people vowed to take revenge on the state of Pakistan. Exactly nine days after the horrific massacre, a suicide bomber attacked a military camp in Swat killing 42 Pakistani soldiers as a revenge for the Madrasa carnage. It was just the beginning of insurgency against the state.

Subsequently, in December 2007, TTP was formally created as a reaction to the innocent killings. Considering the government of Pakistan to be little more than a US ally that allowed drone strikes, TTP militants have exclusively operated against the state of Pakistan. Their stance is very clear but is not usually reported in local and international media. “We are being killed and nobody cares.”

Although Pakistani civil and military authorities have denied publicly that they permitted these drone attacks, drones flew from Shamsi airbase until the Salala incident which strained PAK-US relations in November 2011. A 2012 report found that US drone strikes kill 28 unidentified people for every intended target. In its attempts to kill al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri alone, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults; al-Zawahiri remains alive. The US government’s own internal estimate of those killed in the drone strikes was released in August and totalled about 2,050. All but 50 of these were described as militants.

Terrorism in Pakistan has caused immense suffering since the creation of TTP, and it should be addressed strictly, but drone attacks must be stopped. In recent years, Pakistan has repeatedly requested the US to stop these unmanned air strikes, but all to no avail.  In March 2013, Ben Emmerson, the UN special reporter who led a team that looked into civilian casualties from the US drone attacks, stated that the attacks are a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan. Amnesty International said the United States may be committing war crimes by killing innocent Pakistani civilians in drone strikes.  The worst outcome of these drone attacks is that they gave birth to a most brutal group of terrorist, who do not hesitate to deliberately attack the most vulnerable people of all-innocent children.

Tazeen Hasan, Correspondent (Politics)

Image Courtesy: Don McCullough (https://www.flickr.com/photos/69214385@N04/8725078749), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic | Flickr