SPEAKING FREELY Doubly deadly drones in Waziristan
By Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
There have been divisive arguments over the legality of the CIA-operated, remotely piloted, drone attacks in Pakistan's lawless tribal region and its subsequent purported devastations. Human-rights organizations allege that the Barack Obama administration is recklessly targeting suspected militants in the region - which ultimately brings about unnecessary collateral damage.
During Obama's presidency, there has been a noticeable escalation in drone strikes, not least as the Pakistani military has long rebuffed US demands to carry out operations against local
Taliban commanders like Hafiz Gul Bahadur and its allied Haqqani Network in North Waziristan.
Furthermore, the use of drones in an "undeclared warzone" questions its legality and that issue is now gaining momentum internationally after China and Russia jointly released a statement at the UN Human Rights Council condemning drone attacks. 
In Pakistan's North and South Waziristan tribal agencies, where the highest number of drone strikes have taken place so far - as compared to the rest of the tribal agencies - these attacks have made lives of the local tribesmen miserable in two ways. Firstly, living under constant fear of possible drone strikes on their houses, shops and vehicles, and secondly, creating fear of being killed at the hands of the Taliban on suspicion of spying for the US. 
Taliban's punishment for alleged drone spies
During a thorough investigation by the author of this article, a number of cases were found where innocent people were given stern punishment by various local militant outfits, under charges of alleged spying for the Americans to guide their drone strikes in the region against suspected militant leaders.
Among the victims of the alleged drone spying accusations we find those who are either killed or brutally tortured and forced out of their respective villages and towns. The local populace is caught between two perils: of either getting killed by drones or by the Taliban on suspicion of spying for the Americans. 
Six alleged drone spies who escaped Taliban custody and who are now living in Pakistan's business hub, Karachi, and in the Middle East, categorically denied allegations put forward against them in so-called Taliban courts. 
Even if they have escaped themselves, they are worried that their families could become the Taliban's target. Claims of innocence are hard to assess. Some recruitment by the US agencies or collaborating partners of local informants seems likely to have taken place.
However, other individuals are probably wrongly accused of collaborating with the "enemy", as happens in all societies, especially those in turmoil. However, exactly leads "spies" to get into the business has yet to be identified. Two major reasons could be behind it here: either spying for money or settling scores with local Taliban commanders due to personal animosity with the latter. 
This assumption was endorsed by a local Taliban commander, Abdullah Wazir, based in Wana, South Waziristan, who claimed to be well aware of the spies' interrogation process. 
In my recent visit to the region, the local tribesmen showed me a steep, barren hill on the main Datta Khel road in the outskirts of Miranshah, the administrative headquarters of North Waziristan, where mutilated bodies of purported spies are often found. The mountain is known as "Spayra Ghar" - evil hill.
Taliban's stance on punishment
A leading TTP commander, Abu Omar, said last summer that the closer you are to the Afghan border, the greater you bear the brunt of the drones. He said, "Both North Waziristan and Wana, which share borders with Afghanistan, have ruthlessly been hit by beengana [a local term for drones]. In the recent past, we have captured dozens of American drone spies. All of them were Afghans - the majority from Khost." He added, "Initially they [Americans] recruited spies among local tribesmen, but due to our stern punishment, they [local tribesmen] have stopped spying for Americans". 
The militants have carried out scores of "deadly reprisals" after drone attacks. They find and kill CIA informants across the tribal belt. The prisoners in their custody expose their "tales of intrigue, betrayal and paid espionage on behalf of the United States" in a video recording before they are killed by the militants.
One such tribesman was Sidinkay, who was paid US$350 to help direct drones to their targets in the tribal areas. He confesses his misdeed in the video and warns others to stay away from the US. 
The various accused persons reveal strange stories of spying that include secret meetings with their handlers in the disguise of Taliban fighters, fruit sellers or even heroin addicts. They are paid $150 to $450 per drone strike. They are then tasked to place American-supplied electronic tracking devices - "chips" - often wrapped in cigarette foil, near the houses and cars of the
From the militants' side, a number of local Taliban in both North and South Waziristan asserted that drones were ineffective without ground intelligence, which is being provided by these spies. Muhammad Noor, a North Waziristan-based Taliban commander, claims that these spies have inflicted upon them a sever loss as according to him, the Taliban have lost some of their highly trained and committed companions due to the greediness of the spies. 
He termed the spying a crime and accused the spies of being responsible for the killing of innocent tribesmen just for the sake of a few dollars. 
The Lashkar-e-Khurrassan (Army of Khurrassan) was established by various Pakistan-based Taliban factions based in the lawless tribal region as a "surveillance cell" to track down people involved in this spying. "We had set up Lashkar-e-Khurrassan to hunt spying networks in the region. We had conducted some very successful operations in both South and North Waziristan, but then our Central Shura [council] decided to dissolve it on the requests of local tribal elders," Noor said. 
The Lashkar-e-Khurrassan would be akin to a "counter-intelligence" outfit on behalf of the militants. One of the major reasons behind the dissolution of Lashkar-e-Khurrassan was the emergence of various cases where innocent people were given excruciating punishment. 
Soon after the dissolution of Lashkar-e-Khurrassan, another consultative body, Shura-e-Muraqaba, was formed by the Taliban and their al-Qaeda affiliates. It had the same objective, namely to locate the spies in the region, but it also took upon itself the task of stopping the illegitimate punishment of alleged spies.
Leaflets in Urdu were distributed in both South and North Waziristan, warning both the militants and local tribesmen that in the future, any spy issue would only be dealt by Shura-e-Muraqaba. "All the Mujahideen in particular and the masses in general are directed through the leaflet that none of the Jihadist groups in disguise is entitled to seize a person on the accusation of spying or any other crime, but Shura-e-Muraqaba should be taken into confidence before taking any such action against the spy", the leaflet reads. 
Another factor affecting residents of North Waziristan due to the drone attacks is the ban on polio vaccination put in place by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the late Mullah Nazeer (a pro-government Taliban warlord killed in a US drone strike on January 2, 2013, in Angoor Adda, South Waziristan.) Nazeer was soon succeeded by his close associate, Bahawal, aka Khan Salah-u-Din Ayubi who continues to follow decisions made during the Mullah Nazeer period, including the polio vaccination ban in the region.
The US State Department had designated Mualla Nazeer as a "specially designated global terrorist". Bahadur and Ayubi wield de facto control over North Waziristan and South Waziristan respectively. "Hafiz Gul Bahadur, head of Shura-e-Mujahidin [militants' consultative body]) in North Waziristan, has decided with the advice of his Shura that polio vaccination campaign will be banned until the stopping of drone attacks [by the Americans] in the region," a pamphlet distributed by the Taliban in Miranshah and Mirali Bazaars reads. 
According to the Prime Minister's Polio Eradication and Monitoring Cell, the country's highest body monitoring polio related cases, the ban on vaccination could adversely affect almost 160,000 children in North Waziristan and 80,000 in South Waziristan.  Already in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal region, little headway has been made on polio eradication for various reasons, including the uncertain law and order situation.
The tribesmen's stance
According to local residents, hangings, beheadings and targeted bombings (the author has seen footage given by the Taliban showing alleged spies being blown up with explosive belt around their bodies, just like suicide belts) are common practices to punish the alleged spies in the area. 
Contrary to the claims of the Taliban, many locals in the area are persistently rejecting the narrative of "drone spies", and believe that the majority of tribesmen killed on suspicion of spying for US forces by the Taliban were innocent. 
However, some of the tribal elders claim to have raised the issue regarding the alleged drone spies, and innocent people, with Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud and the then TTP commander,the late Qari Hussain. According to a local elder, even these Taliban commanders were skeptical about the interrogation process of alleged spies by the Taliban. 
Khalid and Mehmood, two tribesmen hailing from Niamai, Kabul Khel Wazir tribe of Shakai, South Waziristan Agency, were detained for weeks by a local Taliban chief. "We were brutally tortured, and then they shot a video of us confessing before a camera that we were hired by Mera Din to spy on the Taliban for American drones." 
The Taliban without any reason killed Mera Din, a local tribal elder, and later when his fellow tribesmen started demanding the local commander to probe his death, they tried to portray him as a drone spy.  "I have seen six confessionary videos of the Taliban declared spies. All of them are contradictory to each other. In the videos, six alleged spies claiming responsibility of throwing [drone guidance] chips on the same location," said a prominent Peshawar-based Tribal journalist. 
Drone spy Sher Khan's story
Sher Khan used to travel to neighboring Afghan province Paktika every month to tend to his family's agricultural lands there. In 2007, he met with some Americans through an Afghan interlocutor and got ready to start working for them. 
His task was to take photographs and videos of militant hideouts destroyed in US drone strikes, after which he provided these materials to the Americans so they could estimate the loss inflicted upon the Taliban. However, his career as an American spy was short lived.
In 2008, Afghan and North Waziristan-based Taliban accused him of spying for the Americans, specifically throwing drone's chips and assisting Americans in various drone strikes during 2007 and 2008. The Taliban in South Waziristan accused Sher Khan of helping the Americans to target Abu Khabab Al-Misri in Zeirra Litta village of Azam Warsak town in Wana along with his son and three other Arab militants in 2008. According to Taliban sources, Abu Khabab was a senior level Al-Qaeda commander in the region.
One evening in 2008, on the seventh of Ramadan, Sher Khan was traveling home on his motorcycle from a neighboring village when a group of Taliban asked him to stop. He asked them to let him park his bike but instead took off and managed to escape, eventually reaching Peshawar. After spending a week in there, Khan left for Islamabad and applied for a visa to Abu Dhabi to work as a light vehicle driver. He left for Abu Dhabi later that year, and he still works there as a pickup truck driver. Khan has been forbidden by the Taliban from entering his hometown, and if they even find out he is somewhere else in Pakistan they have vowed to kill him. 
The alleged drone spies are either killed by the militants or they are compelled to leave the area to save their lives. Human intelligence collection on the ground is obviously in the arsenal of agencies conducting or collaborating in drone strikes.
However, even a doubt or animosity might proclaim an innocent person as a drone spy by the various militant outfits, which may lead to his death. On the one hand, innocent tribesmen may be entrapped in Taliban's allegations of spying for the Americans, while on the other US drones may target civilian populations on the basis of erroneous information. This situation has produced unrest among the local people. 
President Obama has authorized drone attacks six times more frequently than president George W Bush.  The Obama administration has been defending the drone strikes as productive against terrorism. However, human rights organizations and the United Nations have reservations over these attacks. Human-rights activists claim that the drone attacks are counterproductive as these provoke local people to join militants, besides inflicting collateral damages. 
Ben Emmerson QC, a UN special rapporteur, in a speech to Harvard Law School announced on October 2012 that the United Nations would examine the civilian deaths in US drone attacks.  In January this year, he announced that the UN team will examine about 20-30 UK and US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, besides an investigation into Israeli drone attacks in Palestine. 
Pakistan has officially condemned and protested against drone strikes. It considers these attacks as a violation of human rights, country's sovereignty and international law.  The situation of unrest and uncertainty in the tribal areas, produced by drone strikes, can be counterproductive to the stated US goals of fighting terrorism and extremism.
The negative effects on these goals can be mitigated to some degree by paying more heed to the concerns of the human-rights organizations and other critics. The UN investigation into the matter of civilian deaths should also be welcomed by concerned policy makers both inside and outside the US.
Considering the reservations and concerns over the drone attacks, dealing with terrorism and extremism according to international law and a more prudent assessment of the full and societal effects can minimize collateral damages. Accordingly, a number of innocent people would be protected from the rage of Taliban's accusations of spying for the Americans, and the CIA would not require informants for its deadly drone war in various regions.
Furthermore, the local people will be stopped from joining militant organizations due to their feelings of vengeance, which would also by most estimates lower anti-US extremism in the region.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
1. Accessed from www.defence.pk
2. Accessed from the Telegraph
3. Telephone interview with tribal elder Gul Akbar Khan from the North Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan
4. Interview with local tribesmen in North Waziristan who witnessed the trial of alleged spies in Taliban courts
5. Interview with Rasool Dawar, a North Waziristan based journalist
6. Interview with Abdullah Wazir, Taliban commander based in Wana, South Waziristan
7. I visited the area Spayra Ghar located at main Datta Khel road in the outskirts of Miranshah, administrative headquarters of North Waziristan, on February 15, 2012
8. Interview with key TTP commander, Abu Omar, in Miranshah, North Waziristan
9. Report regarding the confession of CIA informants as accessed from New York Times
11. Supra Note 5
12. Interview with Muhammad Noor, the North Waziristan based Taliban commander through an intermediary
14. Supra Note 4
15. Supra Note 13
16. The pamphlets were distributed across both the Waziristans warning people not to vaccinate their children during the polio eradication campaign. The pamphlets were quoting the example of Dr Shakeel Afridi, who was accused of spying for the CIA in the garb of fake polio vaccination
17. The report published on July 17, 2012, in The Express Tribune.
18. Supra Note 2
19. Supra Note 3
20. Interview with a local tribal elder in North Waziristan who spoke on condition of anonymity due to a fear of possible reprisal from the Taliban.
21. Interview with Khalid and Mehmood in Wana, the two tribesmen hailing from Niamai, Kabul Khel Wazir tribe of Shakai, South Waziristan Agency, and detained by the Taliban for weeks
23. Interview with a Peshawar-based journalist who hails from South Waziristan. He is closely monitoring drone attacks in the region. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.
24. Sher Khan has settled in Abu Dhabi to protect himself from the the militants. His real name has not been mentioned here for security reasons.
25. Telephone interview with Sher Khan.
26. Supra Note 3
27. President Barack Obama has authorized 283 drone strikes so far. Drone strikes are one of key national security policies of President Obama. See CNN.com.
28. Accessed from the Guardian.
29. Ben Emmerson QC is a UN special rapporteur who monitors counter-terrorism for the United Nations. He called for setting up of a dedicated investigation unit in Geneva in 2013 to examine the legality of drone attacks in cases where civilians are killed. Accessed from the Guardian.
30. Report accessed from the Guardian.
31. Pakistan condemns drone strikes where they may target even a key Taliban commander, as
was the case with the report on the killing of Mullah Nazir. Accessed from the news.com.
Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud is freelance journalist in Pakistan's South Waziristan Agency.
(Copyright 2013 Centre for International and Strategic Analysis)