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What it was like to escape a drone attack

February 11, 2013, 11:55 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 1387

By riazhussain

Some months ago, I was traveling in a bus. Sitting next to me was a handsome person of mellow age. He was a clean-shaven man with a receding hairline. His round exuberant face engaged the eyes of the onlookers. I felt like engaging him. I started talking to him about the weather. He gave me a warm smile and said, ‘yes it is pleasant today’. I introduced myself and asked about his profession and whereabouts. The man told me that he was a mechanic and worked for a local company. When I asked him to tell me more about his job, he told me that as a mechanic he had to visit far flung places. His job was to diagnose and repair various machines. He was very fluent and soft-spoken in his conversation. I asked him where he was going. He told me that he was going home after working for some days in Waziristan. I was startled at the word ‘Waziristan’.

This remote location is a mountainous region in the northwest of Pakistan which borders with Afghanistan, and which frequently receives drone attacks. In news we regularly hear about remotely-opetated aircrafts hitting people in Waziristan. So, I got curious; I now had the opportunity to talk to a man who had first-hand knowledge of life in Waziristan. I asked him about life in that region. The gentleman did not twitched at my question and calmly said, ‘Things are ok there’. I said, ‘What about drone attacks? We hear so frequently about them in news’. He said, ‘Drones keep hovering in Waziristan for hours. Most of the time, you cannot see them. They are so frequently there that people are now getting used to them. There have been drone attacks which killed women, children and tribal elders. People feel humiliated at the strikes’. Then, he told me the story of a person who went unscathed in a drone attack.

One cool morning, he was busy fixing a machine. This was his second day in Waziristan. He did not know much about the language and culture of the place. The owner of the machine, Mr. Gul, was sitting with our conversationalist. Both men were chatting about different things and listening to a Pashto radio programme. Suddenly, our friend was terrorized by deafening explosions which shook the walls of the garage he was working in. They went out to see what had happened. Life of the villagers had been disrupted by the explosions. There had been a drone attack on a house. A crowd of people gathered near the targeted structure. But, they hesitated to rush to the demolished building to rescue the dwellers because at times rescuers are also struck by drone bombs. Their facial expressions told him that they were furious at the attack. When the scene was reached, there was nothing but smoke and fire. The smell was terrible. Then, a dusty figure could be seen emerging from the smoke and fire. The man seemed to be having a coughing fit. Local people rushed to him. He was nervous and sweating profusely. His face, hair and clothes were covered with dust. He was taken to a hospital.  When the smoke and fire died down, people moved towards the debris and discovered a wounded person in the wreckage whose body had received several horrific lengthy cuts in various places. The latter was immediately hospitalized. In addition, they also found the dismembered limbs of a third person which were strewn about. Later, they came to know that the supersonic missiles had landed on the rooftop of a large room in the house. The lethal projectiles had penetrated the ground after piercing the roof. They had made 4-5 feet deep holes in the floor. There had been three people in the room. The person who came out of the smoke immediately after the drone attack had actually been, with his shawl spread over his body, sleeping on the floor of the very same room which has been slammed by the drone bombs. The missiles landed at a distance from him. His legs were spread apart and his feet were towards the spot where the missiles struck. Since he was lying flat on the floor, he escaped the rockets' shrapnel. The loud explosions woke him up. In the scorching heat, smoke and fire, he struggled to find his way out. His hands grappled for the door. Soon he was able to find the door and came out of the demolished part of the room. The gaseous effects of the heat and smoke made him sick. He was treated in the hospital and got well after a week. After the drone attack, there was an atmosphere of insecurity, fear, hatred and resentment in the village. The enraged people of the village and bereaved relatives staged a protest in the town. The attack and the protest made headlines in the local news. Local political leaders condemned the attack and then everybody got busy with 'business as usual'.

I wanted to ask this man more questions about the land and the people. But he said, 'My stop. . .  sorry !. . . gotta get down here ’. His stop had come. He got down from the bus after a farewell handshake with me. As he got down from the bus, I heard the  bus conductor shout in his hoarse voice to the driver ‘move on!’. This was the only eye-witness of a drone attack which I happen to haphazardly meet in life. As he left the bus, I began to wonder about what I had learned from him.   

These days, drones are being used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. They are run by remote pilots, sitting in secure, air-conditioned rooms. They use joysticks and keyboards to operate the unmanned aircrafts and see their human targets as mere blips on the screen. There is lot of controversy about the use of drones. But, manufacturers of drones are reaping profits. A race has started among powerful countries to equip their forces with the lethal 'robot planes', as they're often called. There is news that manufacturers of such weaponry are trying to expand the market of their technology and are planning to introduce drones for civilian use in the form of surveillance tools in the hands of the police. In future, they may be used to track the behavior of criminals in the public. Drone technology is regarded as a 'cost-effective' way of dealing with the 'enemies'. But, this frugality becomes costly in other respects as we begin to fathom the hatred it is sowing in the hearts of people in target zones such as Waziristan. I am reminded of a poem titled, 'War on Terror' by Mike Michaels:

War On Terror

 by Mike Michaels

So we have a War on Terror

That's set to last forever

It's an essential world peace mission

If you want to believe your local politician

But why single out terror for such special attention

When there are other feelings that might deserve a mention?

How about a war on feeling a little queasy?

We could surely win that one, it would probably be easy

Or an assault on the jitters or getting a bit nervous

We could win it in a week then butterflies would no longer swerve us

Why can we not invade, the dread that does pervade

When we start a new employment?

We could shell it from the sea then on the land parade

A large ground troop deployment

We would reap a reward of thanks if we just sent in all our tanks

To so enhance workplace enjoyment

I would also support cruise missile launching from any kind of range

In order to facilitate a melancholy regimes change

But most of all I'd like to have an air war on apprehension

Cluster bombing from high altitude to exterminate all tension

Plummeting down incendiaries to burn everything but calm

Then just in case we missed something a coup de gras of napalm

Mike Michaels


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