Rabia Akhtar

‘Move away, get away from here. Hurry. Clear the area. There is a bomb here.’ A guy wearing a bomb suit shouts as he makes his way to a location in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. People are curious. They still linger. A bag has been found on the scene. It has a bomb. Boom goes the sound. This is the opening scene of a documentary titled Armed With Faith. Before watching this documentary couple of months ago, I did not know that in KP there was a bomb disposal unit (BDU) comprised of 34 men. This documentary was my first introduction to this small group of men who voluntarily have chosen to become part of a bomb disposal squad in an area which is ridden with IEDs and landmines so that they could save lives. To most of us living elsewhere in Pakistan, we are numb. To majority of us, these men are invisible. It is as if they do not exist. They dispose off bombs. They disarm landmines. They lose their limbs and in some cases their lives in the process. Their love for Pakistan is beyond any measure. They do not fear the enemy. These men are armed with faith.

But who is the enemy? Why is the enemy killing innocent Pakistanis? Why is the enemy planting IEDs and landmines in Pakistan? The questions are difficult and perhaps endless. But answers are not so hard. 9/11 was a watershed event in history, a dastardly act taking lives of thousands of American people. It not only changed how America looked at the world – it changed how the world looked at America as well. It brought war to our neighborhood. It brought war to Pakistan. One could argue that even if Pakistan had decided against joining the U.S. led war on terrorism in 2001, war would still have found its way to Pakistan given the geography and curse of the Durand line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan. If the Al-Qaeda/Taliban militants were being bombed out of their caves in Afghanistan then the only exit to them was into Pakistan’s tribal areas in the north-west and from there into KP merging with the predominately pashtoon population where everyone looked the same.

The first recorded CIA drone strike inside Pakistan took place on June 17, 2004. The target was Nek Mohammad, a local Taliban commander. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, total CIA drone strikes that took place during the Bush years from 2004 to early 2009 were 51. Total reported killed were 410-595. Civilians reported killed were 167-332. Children reported killed were 102-129. Total reported injured were 175-277.

Consider this: If you were born in 2001, you are 17 now. If you were born in 2004, you are 14. Out of the total reported killed in these years, it is likely that some were your family members, cousins, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers or uncles. You being 17 or 14, don’t know much about life yet but you do know of ‘America’ and its ‘evil ways’. You perhaps still cannot find America on the map but that is not your problem. You know what a drone is and that is all that matters. You hate Pakistan Army and Pakistan for allowing the Americans to use Pakistan’s airspace for drone warfare. Your only source of information is a cleric who would want you to wage jihad against Pakistan, its army, its civilians and the Americans to not only avenge the death of your family members but also to guarantee your place in heaven. You are fighting the infidels and that is a high.

Now step back. You are not alone. There are thousands like you who have grown up hating America and Pakistan, brainwashed into fulfilling this one mission of total annihilation of self (through suicide bombing) and others in the process. In 2009 alone, total CIA drone strikes inside Pakistan were 52. Total reported killed were 465-744. Civilians killed were 100-210. Children killed were 36-39. Total reported injured were 262-397. In Obama years from 2009 to early 2017, in a total of 2089 CIA drone strikes, minimum of 373 people had lost their lives. In 16 CIA drone strikes in the first year of Trump’s presidency, minimum of 6 people have reportedly lost their lives. These are not just numbers. These are people. Some evil but majority collateral.

The cycle starts again. You are born in 2018 and by the time you are 14 or 17, it is likely that you would have lost one or more of your family members in drone attacks inside Pakistan’s north-western region. The war is far from over. This is one unfortunate reality in Pakistan.

Anayat ullah ‘Tiger’ Khan, BDU officer in Dera Ismail Khan, tries to disarm a landmine. It detonates. He has lost his hand and his leg. Why in your right mind do you even do this dangerous job? He is often asked. ‘Tiger is my call sign. Whenever I get a call, I pounce on it like a Tiger pounces on its prey. This is my job. I have to do my job for the future of humanity,’ says Anayat ullah from his hospital bed. Tiger and his team has lost many friends and team members in the process of disposing off IEDs and disarming landmines. They have collected body parts in plastic bags of their fellow Pakistanis, families and friends and buried them. Yet, they are not deterred. ‘I do think about death. But if I die while disposing off an IED, only one person will die. I will save lives of at least 30-40 people in the process’, says Abdul Rahim, another BDU officer. These men in the BDU in KP are resilient. Each one of them is a soldier. Their faith is unshakable. Their love for Pakistan is boundless. This is yet another side of Pakistan for it contains within it multiple realities.

How many Americans even know the price Pakistan has paid and continues to pay to still stand with the U.S.? How many American teenagers, 14 or 17 respectively know what has the U.S. war on terrorism wrought in other countries around the world since 9/11? A generation of Pakistani teenagers, 14 and 17 respectively know exactly what the U.S. has taken away from them. Families of 75,000 plus Pakistanis who have lost their lives in terrorist attacks since 9/11 know exactly how this global war on terrorism changed their lives. Hate has won. It continues to win.

Tiger spreads his prayer mat for the evening prayer by the side of the lake, takes off his prosthetic leg and prays for Pakistan and the humanity at large. There is another day to be lived. Another life to be saved.

Dr. Rabia Akhtar is Editor, Pakistan Politico. The documentary Armed With Faith is directed by Asad Faruqi and Geeta Gandbhir. The quotes used in this article have been translated from Urdu to English from the screenplay by the author. For more information about the movie visit www.amredwithfaithfilm.com