Drone strikes and School attacks
The Peshawar school attack is being labelled the worst terrorist attack to occur in Pakistan. Children died. But it was not the first ever school attacked, another one was in northern Pakistan. It was attacked by a US drone. Children died.
The 16th December attack on a military school in Peshawar is a tragedy. It is an outrage. 148 people killed, 132 of them school children aged between 12 and 16. The outpouring of grief and anger in many parts of the world is understandable.
But it was not the first school attacked in Pakistan. In 2006 a school in Chenagai (located to the north of Peshwar in the Bajaur region) was attacked and 80 people were killed, 69 of them children aged between 7 and 17. Only three were actually over the age of 20. Not many people recall this attack. There was little international media coverage.
The perpetrators were the USA; it was a drone attack. The school was a Taliban school, the Headmaster was the target.
At the time, there was anger and outrage in Bajaur and across parts of Pakistan. There was so much anger that in order to deflect hatred against the US, the Pakistan Army initially claimed responsibility. A senior aide to the president at the time explained afterwards, “We thought it would be less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US. But there was a lot of collateral damage and we’ve requested the Americans not to do it again.” The attack on the school occurred on the same day a peace agreement was meant to be signed between local militants and Islamabad. The drone strike brought an end to that peace agreement. (Some say deliberately.)
Take a moment to consider the difference between the coverage of the two attacks.
Or do you even recall the attack in 2006? It did not receive much media coverage. Yet it was also an attack at a school – children died whilst at school. One of the key differences is that the school in Peshawar was a Pakistani military school; the school in Chenagai was a Taliban religious school. The US state were the aggressor in Chenagai, the Taliban allegedly the aggressor in Peshawar.
Both Attacks Are a Tragedy
Both attacks were a tragedy. But it is a tragedy that the majority of us do not recall (or did not even hear of the attack) at Chenagai. It is a tragedy that we can be angry and grieve at the murder of children at one school but not the other.
And it is a tragedy that drone strikes continue.
Under Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama's term of presidency, it is estimated that around 4000 people had been killed in more than 400 drone strikes. Of this figure, as many as 954 were civilians, and as many as 225 were children.
Drones are used to assassinate people perceived to be a possible threat to US security. John Key, prime minister of New Zealand, calls these attacks “an effective way of prosecuting people.”
The US agencies in charge of the 'prosecuting' are the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the CIA. JSOC reports directly to Obama. The agencies work of two lists: a list of 'legitimate targets' and a list of 'signature strikes'. The people on the 'legitimate' list are allegedly people with proven ties to terrorism. The other list is not really a list – 'signature' strikes are targeted against people whose behaviour raises a red flag: their behaviour matches a certain pattern that is considered suspicious. It could be by visiting certain places, meeting certain people, being in a group of a certain size and being of military age. 'Military-age' is a person who looks old enough to be a militant.
It is easy to see why sometimes a drone operator accidentally kills a twelve or thirteen year old. Or why wedding parties are targeted. Or a local community meeting. Or why a school can be targeted. At the school in Chenagai, of the 80 killed, 49 were fifteen or older – the remaining 31 were fourteen or younger.
It is easy to see how drone operators get such a high kill ratio. (When drone operator Brandon Bryant left his job in 2011, he was given a certificate praising him for killing 1626 people in his 4 years of service.)
New Zealand is complicit in the drone strikes in Pakistan. On May 19, 2014 John Key formally acknowledged that the GCSB has been, and presumably still is, providing information to the US which is used in the so-called drone wars. He said he was “quite comfortable” with it.
We should be outraged about the attack in Peshawar, but we should also be outraged about drone strikes.
We should end NZ's involvement in drone strikes and call an end to the drone war.
The Chenagai tragedy:
'Drones – Judge, Jury ad Executioner' by Peppertree in AARGH, issue two, Sept 2014. AARGH can be found here: http://freedomshopaotearoa.blogspot.co.nz/