Walking around with D.S. the other day, the mood was low. Taliban bombers had just attacked Baba Farid shrine in the latest of the ongoing attacks against such places – Ahdullah Shah Ghazi a few weeks ago, Data Darbar earlier. I was downtrodden, shuffling my feet in the dust, my head hanging in despair. “If all this is really Taliban revenge for American policy, why are the militants attacking our holy places? How is that supposed to be an attack on America? I feel like I’m the target. Like it’s personal. But nobody seems to care.” D.S. just shrugged and kicked a rock. “I wish the Taliban had drones. Then somebody might care.”
I stopped walking for a minute and we both looked up at each other and burst out in laughter. We started coming up with these stories about how the Americans were using suicide bombers against Taliban hideouts, and the Taliban was attacking shrines with drones. We laughed about how The Nation front page would be filled with stories telling ISI agents to cut ties with their pet Lashkars. D.S. acted an impression of Imran Khan defiantly telling the military to go in and defend the nation’s sovereignty by taking out militant bases in NWA.
We laughed and joked for a while because it was the only way to keep our minds off the reality, which is not so funny.
I remembered this conversation today when I was reading Shahid Saeed and Awais Masood’s comment in Daily Times, “Demystifying the drone“. After reading their analysis, it occurred to me that D.S. might have been joking, but his joke was funny because it raised a really troubling question: Why are people more upset about drone attacks against militants then suicide bombings against innocents?
The answer, according to Saeed and Masood, is that certain elements are exploiting the drone strikes as part of a political strategy to upset the public and then use their anger to gain power.
Drone strikes have evolved to become a national political issue with the media and public opinion constantly pressing the government to take up the issue with the US. Opposition to drone strikes is mostly based on ill-conceived notions of sovereignty, ghairat (honour) and figures that seem to suggest that drone strikes are inaccurate and lead to a high number of civilian casualties (not to suggest that there cannot be any informed opposition to drone strikes). From Imran Khan to Munawar Hasan, right-wing political parties and religious groups have used drone strikes to forward their agenda by misguiding people through erroneous, fabricated and fictional data. As a result, thousands of people have been mobilised across the country to oppose these strikes.
So, how are these right-wing politicals able to fool so many people? It turns out they have a powerful ally – the media.
An online database of suicide bombings and drone strikes in Pakistan is maintained at a website called Pakistan Body Count (hereinafter referred to as PBC) by Dr Zeeshan Usmani, a former Fulbright Scholar and currently Assistant Professor at GIKI. Fulfilling the tradition of the lack of intellectual integrity and dishonesty, his data has been used by various media outlets without giving him credit. The data reports that as of late September 2010, only 32 al Qaeda militants have been killed by US drone strikes in comparison to 1,778 civilians giving a paltry 1.76 percent strike rate accuracy. As we shall show categorically, much of this data is erroneous, flawed and plagued by numerous transgressions. Academic credentials alone cannot guarantee lack of bias and the use of technology cannot assure authenticity of data.
Shahid Saeed and Awais Masood don’t just make some claims without having the evidence to back them up, either. They have put together their data on a website: Dronedata.wordpress.com. Take a moment to check it out.
Look, obviously I’m not defending drone attacks here. Neither is Shahid Saeed and Awais Masood. But let’s be honest with ourselves. You and I are much more likely to get killed or know someone killed by some jihadi than in a drone strike. We need to start asking ourselves if all this attention to drones is distracting us from the real problem.
What’s that? Another militant bombing in Quetta?
HEY LOOK OVER HERE!!! SOME DRONES!!!