arm of the CIA? According to Bob Woodward’s latest bestseller Obama’s
Wars, when Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, an obsequiously
dangerous man, was notified that the CIA would be launching missile
strikes from drones over his country’s sovereign territory, he replied, “Kill the seniors. Collateral damage worries you Americans. It doesn’t worry me.”
Why would he worry? When his wife Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan
in 2007 to run for prime minister after years of self-imposed exile, she
was already pledged to a campaign of pro-American engagement. She
promised to hand over nuclear scientist and international bogeyman Dr.
A.Q. Khan, the “father” of the Pakistani atomic bomb, to the
International Atomic Energy Agency.
In 2008, for example, Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani
enthusiastically told American Ambassador Anne Paterson that he “didn’t
care” if drone strikes were launched against his country as long as the
“right people” were targeted. (They weren’t.) “We’ll protest in the
National Assembly,” Gilani added cynically, “and then ignore it.”
In fact, protests by the National Assembly have been few and far between
and yet Pakistani territory had been targeted by American unmanned
Predator and Reaper missile strikes more than 100 times this year alone.
CIA drone strikes have, in fact, been a feature of the American war in
Pakistan since 2004. In 2008, after Barack Obama won the presidency in
the U.S. and Zardari ascended to Pakistan’s highest office, the strikes
escalated and soon began occurring almost weekly, later nearly daily,
and so became a permanent feature of life for those living in the tribal
borderlands of northern Pakistan.
While the dead are regularly identified as “militants” or “suspected
militants” in newspaper stories and on the TV news, they almost never
have names, nor are their identities confirmed or faces shown. Their
histories are always vague. The Campaign for Innocent Victims in
Conflict (CIVIC) took a careful look at nine drone strikes from the last
two years and concluded that they had resulted in the deaths of 30
civilians, including 14 women and children. (Perhaps, of course,
superior American military intelligence classified them as “militants in
training.”) Based on this study, an average rate of error can be
calculated: 3.33 civilians mistakenly killed in each drone attack. The
dead, Pakistanis will assure you, are largely unnamed, faceless,
unindicted, and un-convicted civilians.
Pakistanis are considered irrelevant, however, and collateral damage,
as it turns out, doesn’t seem to worry anyone in the governing elite.
In 2009, in one of the many State Department cables Wikileaks loosed on the world, U.S. Ambassador Anne Paterson confirmed that key
player and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani directed his
forces to aid those American drone strikes. Various U.S. operations in
the country’s northern and tribal regions were, the ambassador wrote,
“almost certainly [conducted] with the personal consent of… General
The Zardari government makes no secret of its gratitude for American
support. They have, after all, watched as a foreign power bombs its
land, illegally detains or renders its citizens, and turns a blind eye
to Pakistan’s flagrant censorship and abuse of human rights.
At the height of the devastation wreaked by the summer floods, the
Health Secretary of Balochistan and the Deputy Chairman of the Pakistani
Senate both alleged that aid could not be airlifted out of an air
base in the city of Jacobabad on the border between Sindh and
Balochistan, two flood ravaged provinces, because it was being used by
the Americans for their drone strikes in Pakistan. The American embassy
issued a swift and suitably hurt-sounding denial, but the damage was
done — and the message was clear: the war against Pakistan continues
unabated, with its own government at the helm.