Hundreds protest in Islamabad, waving the flags of the Jaamat Islami Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party of former cricket player Imran Khan, now a politician popular among young Pakistanis.
Hundreds protest in Islamabad, waving the flags of the Jaamat Islami Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party of former cricket player Imran Khan, now a politician popular among young Pakistanis. Sajid Mehmood/NPR
The U.S. drone missile program targeting militants in Pakistan's tribal areas is arousing open anger in the country. Condemnation now echoes from the highest offices of the land.
An attack March 17 in North Waziristan that reportedly killed at least 40 people is galvanizing the protest. Militants were among the dead but most of the casualties were tribal elders and other civilians.
Pakistan's military and government issued unusually strong rebukes of the Americans, and elders have declared a "jihad" on the U.S.
Peshawar-based analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai says the elders' declaration was not an "organized mobilization" but more of a message to the young people that "'OK, we won't stop you, go ahead and fight.'"
A Growing Discord
The growing discord is spilling into the streets. Demonstrations erupted across the country one day after the drone attack that's being described as the worst civilian death toll in such a strike.
One of the largest rallies took place in Islamabad where hundreds of demonstrators chanted "America, go!" and "The friend of America is our traitor." The latter is an apparent reference to the Pakistan government, which has publicly deplored the drone attacks while tacitly concurring with the Americans to carry them out.
Cricket-player-turned-politician Imran Khan speaks to a large demonstration in Islamabad.
Cricket-player-turned-politician Imran Khan speaks to a large demonstration in Islamabad. Sajid Mehmood/NPR
The drone attack in question occurred just 24 hours after Pakistan's courts freed jailed CIA contractor Raymond Davis following the payment of $2 million in "blood money" to the families of the two men Davis killed.
Many Pakistanis were deeply frustrated by Davis' unexpected release and viewed the drone attack a day later as evidence of U.S. contempt, even disdain of Pakistan.
A growing number of Pakistanis have the sense that the U.S. is taking them for granted. Imran Khan, a former cricket player turned politician, appealed to that sentiment in the large rally in Islamabad.
"If we want to live like human beings then we will have to fight for our rights," Khan says. "Speak for those innocent people who are killed daily. Unless we protest the killing of a Pakistani, unless we confront injustice, no one will respect us."
The U.S. has been conducting a covert program using unmanned drones to target militants in Pakistan since 2004. According to the Long War Journal, an authoritative website, the large majority of the 2,000 people killed in drone attacks since 2006 were from the Taliban, al-Qaida and affiliated groups.
That's scant comfort for Resham Khan, a shepherd from North Waziristan, a region of mountains and neglect, who is a now a psychiatric patient suffering extreme depression at a hospital in Islamabad.
Resham Khan, a shepherd from North Waziristan, sits in his hospital room in Islamabad where he is under psychiatric care. Khan's family says he fell into a deep depression after a drone strike killed his two cousins.
Resham Khan, a shepherd from North Waziristan, sits in his hospital room in Islamabad where he is under psychiatric care. Khan's family says he fell into a deep depression after a drone strike killed his two cousins. Sajid Mehmood/NPR
He can barely mumble his name. Resham's brother Mulaqat sits on the bed beside him and says his brother's decline began with a drone strike last summer.
"Resham was two miles from the strike, but his two cousins were killed," he says. "Not long afterwards, Resham became incoherent. By October he stopped talking, he stopped eating." Mulakat says his devout brother even "stopped praying."
A doctor who practiced in North Waziristan said that 70 percent to 80 percent of patients came to him, not with physical maladies, but depression and anxiety.
"There are shootings, curfews and uncertainty" because of the Taliban and the drones he says. The doctor, who asked not to be identified, says "there is collective depression."
'Killed By Drones And Then Labeled As Terrorists'
"The mere sound of drones creates panic," says Rahim-ullah Wazir, a shopkeeper who lives in Miran Shah, the main city of North Waziristan. "People can't sleep. The rich with property and businesses have left. They fear being suspected as informants for the U.S."
"Hundreds have been executed as spies," Wazir adds in a phone interview. North Waziristan is a no-go zone for Western journalist and any contact must be long distance. "Their bodies lay unclaimed in the streets for days."
The militants frequently carry out executions on those suspected of spying following drone attacks.
The bodies of four men were reportedly discovered in North Waziristan after they allegedly provided the U.S. information used in the attack last Thursday.
"If anyone thinks that people here are happy over the drone strikes, they are foolish," Wazir says.
"In fact, the drones are fomenting hatred against the government and turning the people against America," he says. "We are killed by drones and then labeled as terrorists."
NPR Producer Abdul Sattar contributed to this report.