Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cheenagai Drone Strike - when Bajaur saw doomsday on 30 October 2006

30th October?
They say a day has 24 hours, 1440 minutes and 86400 seconds. That once it is over, the day never comes back. But is that true for all days? Has it ever occurred to you that a 'day' could be something more than just 24 hours, 1440 minutes and 86400 seconds? That it could be spread over years? Over lifetimes? Over generations perhaps?
Today PTI & my fellow Insafians are celebrating #30octoberPTIday - the day when Imran Khan's 17-year struggle showed signs of bearing fruit & PTI became 'politically relevant'.
But thats not my topic today because although I am an Insafian - I have another identity too. I am a tribesman - a Bajauri tribesman - and 30 October for me (rather us) has another, extremely painful, relevance.
What? You don't know about it? Or don't remember it?
May be. After all Pakistan has seen so much in the last decade that one fails to keep track. But how can I forget that nightmare of a day? Yes it was 30th October 2006 - the day that has been haunting me & almost every Bajauri tribesman for the last 7 years.
It was late October 2006 & I was in my hometown Bajaur for Eid-ul-Fitr. Bajaur was witnessing a flurry of activity as tribal elders & Ulema made efforts for a peace accord in the Agency (on the pattern of a similar accord in North Waziristan in September 2006). Negotiations between govt & Maulvi Faqir Muhammad group were being held through Malak Abdul Aziz, Malak Ayaz Khan, Malak Shah Jehan, Maulvi Liaquat and other elders & Ulema. The efforts bore fruit & both sides agreed to formally sign the accord soon after Eid. As a goodwill gesture, govt released 9 tribesmen accused of relations with militants - including relatives of Faqir Muhammad. 30 October was fixed for the signing ceremony where at an All-Bajaur jirga, hundreds of tribal elders and Governor NWFP General Ali Jan Aurakzai would be witness to the accord. All preparations were ready for the jirga to be held at 10:00 AM in the morning on 30 Oct. Bajaur slept that night hoping for a new dawn - the dawn of peace. However, somebody somewhere, was watching these developments with unease. American leaders & NATO/ISAF commanders were openly opposing the peace accords (in North Waziristan as well as Bajaur). Somewhere in Nevada (USA), drone operators were being instructed for something nasty, something horrible; something that would change the fate of Bajaur for ever.

Early in the morning on 30 Oct, US drones fired Hellfire missiles on a religious seminary run by Maulvi Liaquat (one of those involed in peace talks) in Inam Khwar (Cheenagai village) of Tehsil Mamund. More than 80 students of the seminary were killed on the spot, alongwith their teachers (Maulvi Liaquat included). After the drones left, Pakistan army helicopters appeared in the skies & randomly fired few rockets into nearby barren hills (just a hogwash). Word of the attack spread like jungle fire & hundreds of tribesmen rushed to the scene. Bazars and markets around Bajaur Agency were shut down & tribesmen took to the streets. The whole Bajaur was in a state of shock. People couldn't believe that nearly a 100 innocents had been killed in the territory of the world's 7th nuclear power as it looked on. 

Thousands (including me) attended funeral of the 80+ kids. When I first reached the site, I suddenly felt nauseated seeing charred pieces of the kids' bodies; roasted bits of human flesh - ears, fingers, feet, hands. It was not possible to identify or segregate the bodies so pieces of flesh were collected as such in chadars & bed sheets and placed on dozens of charpoys (beds). I also saw burnt Qurans and other religious books. I thought heavens would fall that day. The sight was horrible & inhumane to say the least. I saw dozens of kids - brothers & cousins of the killed kids - at the funeral; all of them cursing the Americans, Pakistan, its army & the whole world. They were swearing to take revenge for the merciless killings; whenever, wherever & however they could.

When I got back from the funeral, I was extremely tense. It was impossible to remove from my mind the images of burnt flesh pieces of the kids wrapped in sheets. I lost my sleep & nearly suffered a nervous break down. I was so overwhelmed by emotions that I even thought of joining the militants to take revenge (I realize today that, had it not been for my father who kept counselling me, I would probably have gone for that too).
As news of the attack spread across Pakistan, the then military dictator General Musharraf & ISPR spokesman General Shaukat Sultan shamelessly claimed the attack was carried out by army gunships and not American drones. They also claimed the seminary was actually a terrorist training camp (showing some morphed satellite footage of God-knows-what-place). The claim was exposed soon when international media ran stories that the attack was by a US drone and not Pakistani choppers and that mostly kids & not militants were killed. Local legislators also refuted the govt claims that militants were targeted.
Amidst uproar over the attack, leaders of various political parties including MMA & ANP announced to visit Cheenagai to ascertain facts of the attack. The govt - seeing an imminent expose of its lies - closed all entry & exit routes to Bajaur. An MMA rally trying to enter Bajaur from Mohmand side was forcefully dispersed at Ekka Ghund and an ANP rally trying to enter Bajaur from Dir side was disallowed too. Even then reports about killings of kids trickled from the area & made their way to media.
To ascertain real facts about the attack, Peshawar High Court Bar Association and Peshawar District Bar Association formed a 6-member fact-finding commission led by renowned lawyer Barrister Baacha. The Commission dodged the authorities & managed to sneak into Bajaur Agency and reach Cheenagai for fact-finding. The Commission in its report exposed the govt's lies and concluded that:
1) the strike was carried out by a US drone (not Pakistani helicopter),
2) There was absolutely no training camp & a seminary was indeed hit,
3) Almost 80 kids were killed in the attack alongwith their teachers.
As a revenge, just one week after this drone strike, a Taliban suicide bomber blew up 40+ army recruits at Dargai in the first ever such attack on army outside operation areas of FATA. Before Cheenagai drone strike army was never attacked like this outside FATA. This single drone attack gave such a boost to militancy in Bajaur that Faqir Muhammad (who had only a few dozen followers till then), soon became one of the most dangerous militant commanders in FATA, leading thousands of fighters at one time. Within one year after Cheenagai drone strike, Bajaur fell completely into the hands of militants and it took lives of hundreds of Army/FC/Levies soldiers, thousands of tribesmen and hundreds of militants to recapture it (not fully though). To this date I wonder how many of these militants made the decision to join Faqir Muhammad precisely on '30th October'? Not all were lucky enough (like me) to get a sound counselling and so they ended up being fuel of the militancy fire. And even if they want to return today - the doors are probably closed for them. Even today when I see militant bombs kill innocent civilians in cities or drones kill tribesmen in FATA, it reminds me of that day; of the burnt human flesh; of the hue & cry; of the swearing kids of Cheenagai - 30 October will forever haunt me (and thousands of Bajauris).
This is story of just one drone attack. Now look at this timeline of drone strikes in FATA & imagine the monster created by these killer birds in hundreds of strikes. If even then you don't get the answer to "why the tribesmen have become such savages?" - then God help you.
I rest my case.
The writer is a tribesman from Bajaur Agency (FATA) and tweets at @PTI_FATA .
(No official association with PTI)
Appendix: Local sources also provided a list of all those killed to the media. The list indicated that one of the deceased was only seven-year old, three were eight, three were nine, one was 10, four were 11, four were 12, eight were 13, six were 14, nine were 15, 19 were 16, 12 were 17, three were 18, three were 19 and only two were 21-year old.
Names, ages and addresses of the deceased were as follows:
Maulvi Liaqat Ali (34), son of Abdur Rahim,
Mohammad Tahir (16), son Maulvi Khaleefa,
Azizul Wahab (15), son of Aseer Mohammad,
Fazal Wahab (16), son of Sada Khan,
Ziauddin (16), son of Nader Khan,
Mohammad Yunus (16), son of Rahim Jan
Fazal Hakim (19), son of Gul Rahman,
Ilyas (13), son of Syed Rahim Jan,
Sohail (07), son of Abul Wahab,
Asadullah (09), son of Mohibullah,
Shoaib (08), son of Nisaruddin,
Khalilullah (09), son of Khan,
Noor Mohammad (08), son Hazrat Mohammad,
Khalid (12) and Saifullah (09), sons of Azizur Rahman
residents of Inamkhwar Cheenagai, Mamund tehsil of Bajaur Agency.
Razi Mohammad (16), son of Gul Hasan Khan
Mashooq Jan (15), son of Mian Gul Bacha
residents of Darra Salarzai, Bajaur.Nawab (17), son of Mirzada,
Sultanat Khan (16), son of Shamsur Rahman,
Ziaur Rahman (13), son of Mursaleen,
Noor Mohammad (15), son of Chanai,
Mohammad Yaas Khan (16) son of Fazlur Rahman,
Qari Alamzeb (14), son of Karim,
residents of Ghundai, Salarzai, Bajaur.
Ghulam Nabi (21), son of Baacha Khan,
Ziaur Rahman (17), son of Maulvi Taj Mohammad,
Abdullah (18), son of Mohammad Zada,
Ikramullah (17), son of Sultan Zamin,
Inayatur Rahman (16) and Shahbuddin (15), sons of Fateh Rahman,
Yahya Khan (16), son of Maulvi Zamin,
Rahatullah, (17), son of Maulvi Jan Zamin,
Khan (21), Mohammad Salim (11), sons of Mohammad Karim
Shahjehan (15),
residents of Damadola, Tehsil Mamund of Bajaur.
Gul Sher Khan (15), son of Habibur Rahman,
Bakht Muneer (14), Numair (14), sons of Mirullah Khan,
Mashooq Khan (16),
residents of Gatkai Mamund, Bajaur.Ihsanullah (16), resident of Pashat, Salarzai.
Luqman (12) and Jannatullah (13), residents of Kasai Salarzai, Bajaur.
Ismail (12), son of Maulvi Said Ahmad, Tangai Salarzai, Bajaur Agency.
Taseel Khan (18), resident of Wara Kharkai Mamund, Bajaur.
Zaheeruddin (16), son of Sirajuddin and Qari Ishaq (19), son of Lali Maula, residents of Cheengazo Khar, Bajaur.Jamshed Khan (14) and Alam Nabi (11), sons of Mohammad Khan,
residents of Maina Mamund, Bajaur.
Qari Abdul Karim (19), son of Abdullah and Rahmatullah (14), residents of Zorbandar, Bajaur.
Abdus Samad (17), son of Baacha Ustaz, Siraj (16) son of Ghani, residents of Qung Salarzai, Bajaur.
Saeedullah (17), son of Daryab, resident of Kamar Sar, Mamund Bajaur.
Abdul Waris (16), son of Musafir, resident of Siddiqabad, Bajaur.
Darvesh (13), Ameer Said (15) and Shaukat (14), residents of Mohmand Agency.
Inayatur Rahman (17), son of Rafiullah, Kumbar Maidan, district Dir.
Salman (16), son of Said Malook, Fazal Wahab (18), Baacha Rahman (13), residents of Swat.
Wali-ur-Rahman (17) and Iftikhar (17), son of Sher Zaman, resident of district Sawabi.
Inayatullah (15), resident of district Dir.
Adnan (16), Najibullah (13), Naeemullah (17), Hizbullah (10), Kitab Gul (12), Wilayat Khan (11), Zabihullah (16), Shehzad Gul (11), residents of Nooristan, Afghanistan.
Shabir (15), son of Gulamin Jan, residents of Sewai Mamund, Bajaur.
Qari Sharifullah (17), son of Azam Khan, Shafiullah (16), residents of Badan Mamund.
Nimatullah (14), resident of Pashat Salarzai, Bajaur.
Shakirullah (16), son of Salim Jan, resident of Dabar Mamund, Bajaur.
Talha (08), son of Ghulam Rasool, resident of Harichand, district Charsadda.

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official PTI webpage and is run by a group of volunteers having no official position in PTI. All posts are personal opinions of the bloggers and should, in no way, be taken as official PTI word.
With Regards,
"Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf FATA Volunteers" Team.

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