Drone StrikeBy: M Khan Chishti

Much of the debate on US drone strikes inside Pakistan revolves around the issue of its legality and violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, however little deliberation is made with respect to psychological effects of this lethal weapon on innocent population. Talking over this aspect, Doctor Mukhtar-ul-Haq, head of Psychiatry Department at Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital said that rate of depression is really high in Waziristan, while its residents complain of living in constant fear of drones that emit a terrifying buzzing sound over their heads.

More recently, an AFP correspondent reported that Mohammed Khan, a resident of North Waziristan, lost his eye in a drone attack, “but the mental scarring has been even more traumatic”. He strongly emphasized that no one in the victim’s family was associated with militancy, yet Mohammed Khan was forced to bear the consequences.

An increasing number of people living in tribal areas are suffering from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, phobia and panic attacks in the aftermath of drone attacks. Mental health professionals fear that people distressed by drone terror may develop long-term ramifications of psychological trauma that could cause malfunction in their lives.

The fear induced by the knowledge that a drone attack could be looming in the sky, creates an atmosphere of entrapment among inhabitants of remote areas. Many of these victims develop psychiatric figures such as post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional breakdowns, anticipatory anxiety, insomnia, high levels of stress and a profound sense of powerlessness, which are all manifestations of the poor quality of life.

Drone terror has also discouraged tribesmen from participating in daily activities like attending school and engaging in commerce, further calling into question the long-term consequences of drone strikes on the stability of the region. Weddings, funerals and community meetings have all fallen prey to the drone menace, while claiming lives of many innocent victims. Locals are often afraid to offer aid to victims in the aftermath of a strike because the drones continue to hover overhead. American drones have also targeted state sanctioned anti-Taliban jirgas, like the one set up to solve a local dispute in Datta Khel in March 2011 where 53 people, including few tribal elders, were killed.

Drone attacks have not only inflicted psychological disorders to Pakistanis in the tribal region, but these strikes are also having a devastating effect on victims in other regions across Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Dr Peter Schaapveld, a clinical and forensic psychologist, conducted a study on the impact of drone strikes in Yemen and said the most disturbing impact of these drones was on children. His findings revealed that out of the 34 people he examined in clinics in the Adan region, 28 were suffering from full blown post-traumatic stress disorder.

This immense psychological trauma may place America’s national security at further risk as resentment of drones victims and their families has increased in recent years. A terrorism expert views, “CIA is surely seeking to kill terrorists yet these drones are launched with full knowledge that civilians are likely to be killed alongwith the target.” Such disenchantment has attracted the interest of terror groups who recruit those seeking to fight back against the injustice they have suffered at the hands of the West.

Reportedly,  Al-Qaeda and TTP recruitment campaign witnessed a great upsurge as affectees of drone attacks joined terrorists to avenge Americans. The resultant grievances of local tribesmen have led majority of them to join hands with the terrorists, while others in anger and desperation developed negative sentiments towards the US and Pakistani law-enforcement agencies.

US officials say that the covert drone war in Pakistan involves surgical, pin-pointed strikes against known killers that cause few civilian casualties. However, London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism indicated that US drone strikes killed up to 3,581 people in Pakistan, including as many as 884 civilians and 197 children since 2004. Despite widespread condemnation, the US government remains bent upon its brutal drone strategy.

Various former officials of Obama administration criticized drone attacks, calling it a “violation of international human rights” which “abets our enemies and alienates our friends”. A senior Pakistan foreign ministry official while talking to media said that the country was making all efforts to develop consensus at UN against the unilateral drone use for counter-terrorism operations in any country while expecting that the final UN report, (use of drones on civilians) to be tabled before the General Assembly later this year, would help to develop consensus against the use of drones.

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