He woke up at 630 in the morning, half an hour early than usual. The school bus had gone to the workshop and its driver had informed “A” of his inability to take children to school for the next three days. He would have to drop Shandana off at her school before he went to work. “A” had taken a part time job especially to provide for Shandna’s education, and was very particular about her attendance. After their father’s demise from prolonged illness that year – which had practically drained the family funds – “A” had struggled to support his mother and two sisters. He was staunchly against Shandana quitting school and wanted her to complete her education. He also wanted to save enough money to provide for his elder sister’s wedding. Having got the second job, “A” was at last comfortably pursuing both goals.
“B” read the letter from his beloved. He had already read it thrice the previous night before going to sleep. They were finally planning to get married now that “B” had got a job as a traffic warden. He folded the letter and put it in the pocket of his uniform.
It was “C’s” first day at school. Her dad had wanted to attend the ceremonious occasion of accompanying her to school on her first day, but a last minute call from the head office forced him to take an early flight for Islamabad. “C’s” grandmother volunteered to fill in. “C” was on her way to her first day of school, with her mother and grandmother.
Maulana sahab was troubled by the threats he had been receiving from a religious extremist organization after he had labeled the organization’s acts as un-Islamic. He was pondering if he should avoid touching the subject in his sermon to a gathering he was headed to, in his bullet proof vehicle.
The light turned red. “B” stepped forward to ensure that everyone stopped. The bullet proof vehicle honked at the light to turn green for the ‘V.I.P’. “C’s” mother gestured in annoyance at the impatience of the driver. By the car window on her side, on a motor bike sat “A” who was wondering if Shandana was still alone or if other students had started reaching the school by now.
Several hundred miles from A, B and C, children aged five to fourteen years sat in their madrassah in Afghanistan. Young boys busy in synchronized recitation of the Quran. Sons of farmers and common folk. They did not have much in common with A, B or C. Not until that horrific moment when the blasts tore the air they breathed and shook the ground beneath them.
A missile from a drone had hit the madrassah, while a suicide bomber had detonated his explosive vest near the Maulana’s vehicle. The blasts ended their very different lives in a very similar death. They now had one thing in common; they were all “collateral damage”. The self righteous warriors from two opposing sides of a war had missed their targets. Maulana escaped unhurt in his fortified vehicle, and the “terrorist” targeted by the drone had left the madrassah a short while before his death came knocking at its door. It was a routine lapse in intelligence reporting.
What they never miss, and didn’t miss, were the ‘collaterals’; innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the war, yet, as usual, suffered the major brunt. Lives ended, lives changed. Shandana will have to quit school. The dad will come back from Islamabad a completely different person; a psychological wreck. There will be no weddings, no first days at school.
According to some reports the civilian casualty ratio in drone strikes is as high as 50:1 i.e 50 civilians are killed with one targeted terrorist.
As for terrorist attacks in Pakistan, almost all casualties are collateral. The frail justification by these attackers purports that this is a jihad as they target people who belong to a country which has an army that is in alliance with an army that is attacking them. I am sure that doesn’t make sense to many, but it makes sense to them.
The civilians who became victims of erroneous intel, or slip of the hands that control drones, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, were not the enemies. They were not fighting against their killers-to-be.
Many civilians who died in terrorist attacks were actually against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, several of them were devout Muslims, far more than their killers-to-be.
In all the wars that have been waged, in all wars still being fought, millions of innocent people have lost their lives. Families deprived of their support, dreams shattered and trampled under the ugly boots of human ego, greed and stupidity. A war waged against terrorism has terrorized entire nations. Another waged against ‘enemies of Islam’ has dealt the most fatal blows to Islam in its entire history.
While a handful of power hungry, trigger happy, conniving scoundrels fight their malicious wars, the majority of human population is reduced to being mere collateral damage.