To educate Americans on the effect that drone strikes have had on his country, Rafiq and his thirteen year-old son, Zubair, traveled to the US. They will be participating in a congressional briefing called by Rep. Alan Grayson. They also appear in a new documentary from Brave New Films calledUnmanned: America’s Drone Wars.
“As an educator,” Rafiq told Firedoglake, “my job is to educate so I have come here to hopefully make American citizens as well as the US government aware that drones are, in fact, hurting innocent individuals like it killed my mother. It has injured my children. It is causing disruption in the lives of innocents.”
He said his family has seen President Barack Obama on television. “We know that he is associated with drones, and we’re coming to address the US government.”
“We understand that this has nothing to do with American citizens. They’re just like us,” Rafiq added. He also thinks it is not only the US government’s fault because the Pakistani government has a duty to keep the people of Pakistan safe too.
On October 24, 2012, Momina Bibi, Rafiq’s mother, was killed by a drone. She was out gathering okra for a meal that evening when at least two Hellfire missiles came down from the sky and obliterated her.
It was the evening before Eid. Rafiq left the school and went to a nearby city to get some thing for the holiday for his mother and himself. He also visited his sister. When he returned to his small village on the outskirts of Miranshah in North Waziristan, the first thing he saw was the village graveyard with a newly dug grave.
Rafiq became really tense. He did not know what had happened. He walked toward the house and overheard village kids saying that Latif Rehman’s mother had passed away. Latif is Rafiq’s older brother, and he knew then that something terrible had happened.
He ran toward the house. Neighbors and brothers told him not to go to the house. They said come to the mosque where they were having a burial prayer. Rafiq insisted on seeing his mother’s face before she was laid to rest. They told him he did not want to see her face. The drone had left her in pieces. Whatever was left had been picked up and put into a coffin.
Rafiq immediately felt like he had lost a limb. He could not bear the thought of what it would be like to live in the world without his mother. He looked around and could not find Zubair or his younger daughter, Nabila. Nephews were missing. He asked where they were and was told they were injured. He thought they were dead too and became inconsolable. It turned out, however, they had been taken to the hospital and were receiving operations for injuries.
Zubair, according to a recent Amnesty International report, was only 119 feet away from his grandmother when she was killed by the drone.
“There was a very bad smell and the area was full of smoke and dust. I couldn’t breathe properly for several minutes,” Zubair recounted for the report.
A piece of shrapnel became stuck in his leg. At a hospital in Miranshah, the doctors were initially unable to remove the shrapnel. The doctors were saying the leg would have to be removed or he would die. Rafiq did not want his son to die or become crippled so he traveled to a medical center in Islamabad.
Rafiq could not afford the necessary operation. He sold some land to pay for the operation, and the hospital was able to remove the shrapnel from Zubair’s leg.
The force from the strike took Zubair’s sister, Nabila, into the air. She saw her grandmother’s shoes and then her grandmother’s mutilated body. She and others picked up pieces of her grandmother and wrapped them in cloth to be buried.
Nabila was injured in her arm and shoulders. Asma, one of Rafiq’s daughters, sustained shrapnel injuries. Safdar, his son, was standing on the roof of his home during the strike and fell off and fractured bones in his chest and shoulders. (He still suffers from the injuries.)
Zubair recalled how his grandmother was “really loving.” There was no one like her. “She would always make sure that we all knew that were loved,” he said. He remembered going into her room with her other grandchildren to tease her. He said she would also go to the bazaar and never forget to bring home fruits. Now that she’s gone, he misses that. “It feels empty without her in the house.”
“Mother had such a big heart,” Rafiq said. It is hard for him to look at his father. When he looks at him, he thinks of how loving his parents were. They could not be away from each other for more than an hour.
His father does not smile anymore. He is suffering deep depression. The children and him have tried to console him, but it is hard. He has become weak and has had heart problems.
Everyone hurts so much because they all lived together in one compound. The family was close-knit and Momina helped raise the children.
“Now since the attack has happened, and I’ve seen what it’s done,” Zubair said, when the drones are close by, “I just become scared and I am in a state of shock. Even if I did run I don’t know where I would run to.” That is because the drones will strike and then strike again if anyone is still in the area.
Zubair tried to think of a time he remembered when drones had not been flying in the skies. He answered, “I am sure they weren’t there before, but I can’t remember a time when drones weren’t there.”
According to Rafiq, the drones started to appear in the skies around 2004. They increased around 2007.
He explained what it is like to see them. “You’ll be standing in one area and you’ll see two. They’ll be kind of circulating. They’ll be going around. And then, in another corner, you may see two or three” more drones.
One is constantly hearing noise and seeing drones. They are there so often that it becomes “second nature” to hear them. It was not something to be frightened by initially, however, after the attack, the drones make people afraid.
There have never been any suicide bombings in the local area where the drone hit, according to Rafiq. He has heard of suicide bombers but gave no indication that they are a problem in his village.
In the first and second grade classes he teaches, he has noticed that fewer students are coming to receive education. He used to have fifty students in his classes. Parents are scared to send their students to schools now.
“Drones are disturbing the students’ accessibility to education because families fear sending their children,” Rafiq said. The children used to play soccer outside, but that does not happen anymore because the school is under guidelines to keep students inside the school so they can be safe. However, Rafiq added that does not guarantee the children will not be hit by a drone.
In the final moments of the interview, Rafiq mentioned that he had hoped to travel to the US with his lawyer, Shahzad Akbar. He has become very close with Akbar but the State Department would not let him into the country.
“We were supposed to come here a month ago, and we couldn’t come because our lawyer was not getting a visa,” Rafiq noted. He trusts Akbar and was hoping he would be here when he told his story, but, still, he is pleased to have the opportunity to educate Americans and let them know of the injustice they incurred.
A few days ago, Rafiq wrote in a column for The Guardian, “No one ever asked us who was killed or injured that day. Not the United States or my own government. Nobody has come to investigate nor has anyone been held accountable. Quite simply, nobody seems to care.”
Rafiq is not the only family member to have lost loved ones to drone strikes, which the Obama administration refuses to detail so they can have an explanation for the deaths.
The government has increasingly been targeting critics of the US drone program, blocking them from entering the US to inform Americans of the real impact of US drones. Remarkably, Rafiq and Zubair were able to properly coordinate everything and enter into the US with little to no problems.
It is shameful that the administration has hid behind secrecy in order to avoid having to confront the truth of what can happen in drone strikes. The family deserves to know what happened, and one wonders if traveling to the United States will help force out some details on why the CIA launched a drone strike that killed Momina.