Obama’s Drone War: War on Terror or War on the Terrorized?

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On January 30th, President Obama finally conceded that the United States was orchestrating drone strikes in Pakistan, insisting however that they are “kept on a very tight leash”. While Obama’s metaphor comparing US foreign policy to a canine is revealing, evidence also confirms the callously dogged character of the drone program. Hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed and the agony felt by communities, many of which already lived under the violence of poverty and socio-economic displacement, has been further exacerbated. What has ensued is a rising anti-US sentiment and an attraction to militant Islam, which in the absence strong leftist/progressive movements in the country provides the only available and organized political channel to express legitimate grievances. It seems the War on Terror is, in fact, a War on the Terrorized.

Obama campaigned for ‘change’ and delivered on his promise by promptly escalating the drone program which brazenly began under the auspices of former-president George W. Bush in 2004. Coordinated by the CIA, these pilotless drones primarily attack tribal communities residing in Northwest Pakistan along the Afghan border. The program is part of the broader ‘War on Terror’ campaign and claims to be targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which conducts in-depth investigations into the drone program, indicates however that up to 800 civilians have been reported as killed by these strikes, including over 100 children.

There exists a myriad of arguments opposing these drone strikes: a popular one spouted by many of the liberal Pakistani ruling elite is that these assaults violate the country’s sovereignty. I adamantly reject this line of argument because it makes the problematic and unfounded assumption that the Pakistani people had sovereignty before the strikes began. In fact, Pakistan’s sovereignty has always been violated as an unelected class of feudal landlords, lofty industrialists and military personnel reign the country according to their interests and US interests. Not only is the Pakistani government complicit in the drone strikes, with reports alleging that the drones take off from airfields in Pakistan, but more evidently the Pakistani military has also been waging its own campaign on communities along the Afghan-Pak border. The Pakistani ruling class rule the country, not according to the interests of their own people, but in harmony with the US government and its ‘War on Terror’. The latter after all have provided military aid to the tune of over $11 billion since 9/11 to ensure that the Pakistani government does so. Genuine sovereignty – that is, a people’s sovereignty where the masses democratically decide (at the local, provincial, and national level) how their lives are governed – has never existed in Pakistan

The argument against these strikes should therefore be made, not on the grounds that they violate a sovereignty the Pakistan people never had, but on the unwarranted deaths they cause, family’s lives they further devastate, and the escalating Islamic radicalization that ensues. Under conditions of socio-economic displacement – aggravated by US drone strikes – and in the absence of leftist organizations, Islamist organizations provide the only existing avenue for a legitimately felt desire to resist. These organizations offer a religiously-inspired framework through which people can understand their afflictions, its causes and the solution: the Jihad narrative, which reads the ‘War on Terror’ as a ‘War on Islam’ whose only solution is to engage in jihad to rid the country of Western presence and establish an Islamic caliphate.

It is not only the Pakistani people who are burdened with the imminent possibility that a drone may strike their village. So far, the Obama administration has carried out drone strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia and Libya. And rather than quelling Islamic fundamentalism, it seems these strikes, and the larger ‘War on Terror’ campaign, are aggravating the problem. Instead of using brute military violence, attention must instead be paid to the violence of poverty and socio-economic displacement – and the endemic absence of a people’s sovereignty – which underlie the rise of that phenomenon we call ‘Islamic fundamentalism’.