When a U.S. drone strike killed her grandmother in a tribal region of Pakistan in October 2012, everything went dark, Nabila Rehman recalls. She was only 8 at the time but the memory still haunts her today.
On a recent trip to Japan, Nabila had a message to convey about the importance of creating an environment for education in her country and not war. She wants the drone strikes to stop.
“The drone attack was so dreadful that I cannot forget it even today,” said Nabila, 12, at a recent symposium organized by the Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Tokyo. “The attack destroyed my time for school and play.” She is currently not attending school.
“Why do we have war? I hope Japanese people will cooperate to bring us education,” she said.
Nabila, who was injured by shrapnel during the attack, aimed at militants in North Waziristan, had been gathering okra with her brother, sisters and grandmother when she heard a distinct hum from the sky above. It was supposed to be a time of celebration because the family was preparing for the Muslim holy day of Eid.
Nabila’s father, Rafiq ur Rehman, who accompanied her to the symposium, said no one has ever explained to him why his mother was killed that day.
In 2004, the United States started drone strikes, mainly in Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, targeting the Taliban along the Afghan border in Northern Pakistan as part of its war on terror. Surveys have shown the strikes are widely unpopular in Pakistan.
“Some media outlets reported that the attack was aimed at a car, others said it was on a house. But the missile hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed. But only one person was killed that day, not a militant, but my mother,” Rafiq said.
Nabila, who is often compared with Noble Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, an 18-year-old Pakistani activist for female education, said she dreams of becoming a lawyer one day to fight for her community. She was inspired by a female lawyer back home who is raising her voice about the threats drones pose to the civilian population.
“I am happy that Yousafzai received the prestigious award. That might be a story, but I want the wars to stop. I want my community to be educated. That is the only aim I wish for.”
The center’s chairman, Osamu Miyata, said Japanese civilians should put themselves in the shoes of ordinary Pakistanis who live under the constant threat of drone attacks.
“What would happen if some drone strike happened around here and some Japanese died? They are continuously attacked by drones, and 70 years ago we Japanese were attacked by nuclear bombs. I want Japanese people to understand their pain,” said Miyata, adding that Japan should help with Pakistan’s education efforts.
Shahzad Akbar, a human rights lawyer who represents the Rehman family, called drones “seductive weapons” because they allow powerful countries to fight without “boots on the ground,” adding that although numerical figures are given, the identities of the militants killed by the strikes in Pakistan remain a secret.
Akbar said that according to a survey conducted by the civil administration in tribal areas, more than 1,400 civilians were killed in a campaign for “47 high-value targets” from 2008 through 2014.
Another problem, he claims, is that the CIA lacks on-the-ground intelligence in Waziristan, with local residents receiving lucrative sums of money for tip-offs about the whereabouts of militants. This makes the information on which drone strikes are based unreliable, he argues.
“The United States is running the world’s largest extra-judicial killing program, especially in Pakistan through drones,” Akbar said, while also blaming the Pakistani government for not protesting enough over the attacks despite complaining that the attacks violate its sovereignty.
Akbar said, “All allied nations that supported U.S.’s post 9/11 war on terror, including the state of Pakistan, knowingly or unknowingly have sleepwalked into being part of extra-judicial killings.” He added, “We believe that there might have been some cooperation between Pakistani intelligence ISI and the American CIA in the past. Does it still continue or, as reported, doesn’t it?”
Pakistani civilians showed no genuine concern about the issue from 2006 through 2010, he said, adding that human rights organizations, including his own, had failed in reporting any civilian casualties.
Later, however, after highlighting the issue, an inquiry by the United Nations human rights rapporteur on extra-judicial killing resulted in a report in late 2013 and early 2014 questioning drone strikes by the United States. Although the number of strikes has fallen, it said, they have not ended. Akbar said the worry has doubled now that not only the CIA but also the Pakistani government are conducting strikes.
Rafiq, who is a teacher, is still seeking answers about the drone strikes on his family. He said he does not know what to tell children who themselves might become victims.
“How can I in good faith reassure the children that the drone will not come again and kill them, too?”
He said he wanted U.S. President Barack Obama to think about how many children could be educated with the money that the United States spends on drone strikes.
“Think about how many girls’ schools could be funded with such money,” he said.
He has not received any compensation for the expenses incurred for providing medical treatment for his children.
“The Pakistani government accepted my claim and confirmed the details. But it says it is not responsible; the U.S. is,” he said.
Seishiro Eto, chairman of the Japan-Pakistan Parliamentarians Friendship League and a member of the House of Representatives, said that the root of the problem is terrorism that must be confronted and eradicated at the source.
But he added that it is important that the CIA collect accurate information prior to attacks, and do proper management and surveillance, rather than relying on local sources for intelligence.