Pakistan’s new animated television series, “Burka Avenger,” features a female Muslim teacher disguised in a tight black outfit with a cape and ninja-style head cover who throws heavy books and sharp pens at men who oppose education for girls.
The fictional show coincides with the real life of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Pakistani student who was shot in the head in an unsuccessful bid to kill her because she spoke out in support of girls’ education.
The Burka Avenger has been mostly victorious against her Taliban-like enemies during the first two shows, which began on July 28.
A controversial Muslim scholar-turned-television-host has given away at least two abandoned babies during his live TV show in Pakistan, saying “it is real Islam” and not exploitation because the infants find homes with couples who want to adopt.
In response to criticism, the U.S. has drastically reduced the number of drone strikes in Pakistan and is limiting them to “high-value targets.” The Associated Press reports:
The CIA has been instructed to be more cautious with its attacks, limiting them to high-value targets and dropping the practice of so-called "signature strikes" - hitting larger groups of suspected militants based purely on their behavior, such as being armed and meeting with known militants, said a current U.S. intelligence official and a former intelligence official briefed on the drone program. …
Two other senior American officials said the U.S. scaled back the number of attacks and tightened up its targeting criteria as a concession to the Pakistani army, considered the most powerful institution in the country and the final arbiter on the future of the drone program.
Read more here.
On October 9, 2012, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban for advocating for girls' right to attend school. Malala survived the attack, and earlier this month she celebrated her 16th birthday by giving an impassioned speech to the United Nations, advocating for equal rights to education.
This 16-year-old girl was as eloquent and passionate as a seasoned statesman. Her words rang with truth and power. She reminded us that the world is full of vitriol and violence, hate and ignorance — that this is true for people of all faiths, all backgrounds, all political parties. That there is no corner untouched by darkness.
But at the U.N., celebrating her sweet 16, Malala was a light.
I listened to Malala’s story and got chills. As children, before we learned to use politics and policy to defend the lesser inclinations of the heart, we asked: why do people hate? Why do they do harm?
Dear Liberty University,
I want to write truthfully about God. I know many will find that an odd way to begin a letter about U.S. drone warfare, but I see no other way. This morning, I was discouraged to read that Liberty University has been training Christians to pilot armed U.S. drones since 2011 in your School of Aeronautics (SOA). The reasons for my discouragement are many — not least of which is the idea that Liberty graduates can somehow "serve the Lord" by targeting and killing their neighbors. Here, I would like to outline some of my concerns in detail with the hope that Liberty might reconsider, or at least restate theologically, its position regarding U.S. drone warfare.
Early Wednesday morning, at least 17 people were killed in the first U.S. drone attack in Pakistan since May 28.
According to NBC News:
“PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- At least 17 people were killed in a U.S drone attack in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region in northwest Pakistan early Wednesday, officials said.
"Local residents and security officials said the aircraft fired four missiles and struck a house at Sara-e-Darpakhel area of Miranshah, which is located near the Afghan border.
"'I never heard such a huge drone strike before,' local resident Nasrullah Khan said. 'They simultaneously fired four huge missiles and jolted the entire town.'"
Al Jazeera reported that the Pakistan foreign ministry condemned the attack:
“In a press release on Wednesday, the Pakistan foreign ministry said the strikes were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The statement described the attacks as 'counterproductive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications.'"
Nine foreign climbers in the Himalayas in a remote part of northern Pakistan were killed Saturday night by a unit of the Pakistani Taliban. A Taliban spokesman claimed the killings were by a new unit set up to send a message against drone strikes by attacking foreigners. Al Jazeera reported:
“Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan telephoned the AFP news agency to say that the killings were intended to avenge the death of the second in command of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) in a US drone strike late last month.
"We did it and we claim responsibility for this attack," Ehsan said in the call from an undisclosed location.
"One of our factions, Junood ul-Hifsa, did it. It is to avenge the killing of Maulvi Wali ur-Rehman," he said.
"We want to convey to the world that this is our reply to US drone attacks," he added.”
Read more here.
A fundamental principle [of ancient Greek tragedy], often overlooked, is that the double and the monster are one and the same being.
- René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (p. 160)
The debate about the use of drone strikes in the so-called “War on Terror ” has shed light on an inevitable calculus of war: how many civilian casualties can be tolerated in pursuit of our goals? President Barack Obama, in his speech on May 23 at National Defense University, referred to the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, admitting, “It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all war.” But of course, our wars and our use of drones were conceived as a legitimate response to the civilian deaths on 9/11 and a defensive maneuver to prevent future attacks.
Obama Defends Drone Attacks
In his speech, Obama further justified the use of drones by stating it reduces the number of civilian casualties compared to boots-on-the-ground wars. Though the numbers are hard to determine, it has been reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that civilian casualties caused by our invasion of Iraq number somewhere between 55,000 and 60,000. In Afghanistan, from the time reporting began in 2007, the Guardian reports that the total number of civilians who have lost their lives in the armed conflict to be 14,728. For drone strikes, the highest estimates put total civilian deaths at around 950, indisputably a better number.
The Illogical Logic of Violence
Reducing the number of deaths caused by our use of violence is a worthy goal, and Obama does seem genuinely engaged in drawing the number down. So for the sake of argument, I will take him at his word. But (you knew there was a but coming!), he is trapped, as so many of us are, within the logic of violence.
With the release of their ninth annual report, members of the Hindu American Foundation are pushing policymakers to take action against international human rights violations directed at Hindus.
The four countries the report categorized as egregious violators — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Pakistan — are all Muslim-majority countries.
Samir Kalra, author of the report, titled Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights said the foundation included countries in which the plight of Hindus is largely overlooked. The impact of the report, he said, is twofold: It gives a voice to Hindu minorities and educates officials in the U.S. and worldwide.
In what was largely a formality following last month’s popular elections, Pakistan’s parliament yesterday elected Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. In Mr. Sharif’s first speech, he said that he wanted better relations with the U.S., but included among his priorities an end to drone strikes. According to the Associated Press:
"This daily routine of drone attacks, this chapter shall now be closed," Sharif said to widespread applause in the parliament hall. "We do respect others' sovereignty. It is mandatory on others that they respect our sovereignty."
But he gave few details on how he might end the strikes. Many in Pakistan say the strikes kill large numbers of innocent civilians — something the U.S. denies — and end up breeding more extremism by those seeking retribution with the U.S.
Read more here.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban confirmed that Waliur Rehman, the group’s second-in-command, was killed in yesterday’s drone strike. Ahsanullah Ahsan also announced that an offer to begin peace talks with the new Pakistani government was being withdrawn.The Associated Press reports:
The militant group had said earlier that it was open to peace talks. But Ahsan said Thursday that the Taliban believe the government approves of the drone strikes so they are withdrawing their offer of peace talks.
"We had made the offer for peace talks with the government with good intention but we think that these drone attacks are carried out with the approval of the government so we announce the end of the talks process," he said.
The incoming government, headed by Nawaz Sharif, promised in the campaign that it would work to bring about peace after years of violence. A U.S. drone has now called that into doubt.
Read more here.
In the news this morning are reports of a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan that killed seven people, including the unconfirmed death of the number two leader of Pakistan’s Taliban. It is the first strike since Pakistan’s election, and the first since President Obama’s speech last week on drone policy. Reuters reports:
A U.S. drone strike killed the number two of the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan region on Wednesday, three security officials said, in what would be a major blow in the fight against militancy.
The drone strike killed seven people, Pakistani security officials said, including Taliban deputy commander Wali-ur-Rehman, in the first such attack since a May 11 general election in which the use of the unmanned aircraft was a major issue.
Wali-ur-Rehman had been poised to succeed Hakimullah Mehsud as leader of the Pakistani Taliban, a senior army official based in the South Waziristan region, had said in December.
Read more here.
News reports over the weekend had Pakistani reactions to President Obama’s Thursday speech on drones.
DAWN reported a statement from the Pakistani Foreign Office:
The Government of Pakistan has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law.
The Associated Press reported that while Pakistanis welcomed the speech and its more restrictive rules on drone strikes, there was also disappointment that strikes will continue:
Obama has finally responded to the popular sentiment in this country, which is fiercely against the drones, and I think that shows a certain sensitivity," said Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the defense committee in Pakistan's Senate. "But for the people of Pakistan that is not good enough unless there is a cessation of drone attacks."
Several Pakistani officials and analysts noted that the President’s comments could help in improving relations between the U.S. and the new government in Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharif, the newly elected prime minister of Pakistan told reporters yesterday that he considered U.S. drone attacks in that country a challenge to national sovereignty. According to the AP (via the San Jose Mercury News):
“The CIA's drone campaign targeting al-Qaida and other militants in the tribal regions has been extremely controversial in Pakistan, where people say it frequently kills innocent civilians -- something Washington denies -- and that it violates Pakistan's sovereignty.
"Drones indeed are challenging our sovereignty. Of course we have taken this matter up very seriously. I think this is a very serious issue, and our concern must be understood properly," said Sharif.”
Read more here.
A Pakistani court has ruled that U.S. drone strikes in that country are illegal. The case was filed on behalf of the families of victims killed in a March 17, 2011 strike. The Independent (U.K.) reports:
In what activists said was an historic decision, the Peshawar High Court issued the verdict against the strikes by CIA-operated spy planes in response to four petitions that contended the attacks killed civilians and caused “collateral damage”.
Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, who headed a two-judge bench that heard the petitions, ruled the drone strikes were illegal, inhumane and a violation of the UN charter on human rights. The court said the strikes must be declared a war crime as they killed innocent people.
Read more here.
The month-long break in drone strikes appears to have ended.
On Wednesday, a strike on a training camp in Pakistan killed at least five people. According to Al Jazeera:
“A US drone has fired two missiles into a Taliban training camp in Pakistan, destroying the compound and killing at least five people, local officials have said.“Wednesday's strike took place in the Baber Ghar area of the South Waziristan tribal district on the Afghan border, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud where the faction runs several camps.”
Also on Wednesday, two separate strikes in Yemen killed five. The Associated Press reported:
“Two U.S. drone strikes Wednesday killed at least five suspected al-Qaida militants and destroyed the house of one of them in a mountainous area south of the capital, Sanaa, a Yemeni security official and witnesses said.
“The four were killed in the first strike while riding a vehicle in the desert area of Oussab al-Ali, about 140 kilometers (90 miles) south of Sanaa, the official said. The second strike killed a fifth suspected jihadi, Hamed Radman. A drone bombed his house, the official said.”
On Sunday evening, the first U.S. drone attack in nearly a month killed at least four people in Pakistan. The attack took place in Datta Khel town, 22 miles west of Miranshah, the main town in the North Waziristan region. According to Agence France-Presse:
Six US drones flew over the area when one of them fired two missiles at a compound in the Manzarkhel area of the town. "The drones kept hovering at the compound for a while and then one drone fired two missiles at the time of sunset," a local security official said. "At least four militants were killed in the strike," said the official.
After years of secrecy, the leaks of classified information on the drone killing program in Pakistan have turned into a torrent. Today, it was the McClatchy Newspapers, running two stories by national security and intelligence reporter Jonathan S. Landay.
The first examines in depth intelligence reports that covered most of the drone strikes in 2006-2008 and 2010-2011. Reviewing the killings covered in these reports, Landay concludes that:
“Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified “other” militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show.”
The second, apparently using some of the same reports, reveals the history and extent of cooperation between the CIA and Pakistani intelligence. While Pakistan was aiding the U.S against al Qaida, CIA drones were aiding the Pakistani military against the Taliban.
“Even as its civilian leaders publicly decried U.S. drone attacks as breaches of sovereignty and international law, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency secretly worked for years with the CIA on strikes that killed Pakistani insurgent leaders and scores of suspected lower-level fighters, according to classified U.S. intelligence reports. Dozens of civilians also reportedly died in the strikes in the semi-autonomous tribal region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan that is a stronghold of al Qaida, Afghan militants, other foreign jihadists and a tangle of violent Pakistani Islamist groups.”
Both stories are long, both are well worth reading. Taken together, they reveal more secret details of the drone killing program.
How did the drone assassination program begin? In a front page feature Sunday, The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti offered an answer. In June 2004, a Pakistani Taliban leader, Nek Muhammad , was killed by a drone strike in the South Waziristan tribal area. The killing, writes Mazzetti, was the result of a secret deal between the CIA and Pakistani intelligence officials.
“Mr. Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a “targeted killing.” The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.
“That back-room bargain, described in detail for the first time in interviews with more than a dozen officials in Pakistan and the United States, is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war that began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama, and is now the subject of fierce debate. The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.
“The C.I.A. has since conducted hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed thousands of people, Pakistanis and Arabs, militants and civilians alike. While it was not the first country where the United States used drones, it became the laboratory for the targeted killing operations that have come to define a new American way of fighting, blurring the line between soldiers and spies and short-circuiting the normal mechanisms by which the United States as a nation goes to war.”
According to the Associated Press of Pakistan, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Office responded that “the story is baseless and a part of the propaganda to create confusion about the clear position of Pakistan on this matter.”