Murtaza Hussain writes: Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer and co-founder of the Pakistan based legal advocacy organization Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) has been campaigning for the past several years on behalf of civilians who have been killed and maimed as part of the CIA’s covert drone warfare program in NW Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The drone campaign, which continues to be conducted without oversight and accountability, is documented to have taken a horrendous toll on the civilian population of these regions, the magnitude of which has only come to light through the efforts of grassroots activists such as Akbar.
The London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented more than 160 cases of children who have been killed by CIA-operated Predator drones among over 800 confirmed civilian deaths. These are individuals with no connection to militancy whose lives have been ended by a clandestine program under which there is no known reprimand for inflicting civilian casualties. The free hand given to the CIA to kill in Northwest Pakistan has created a culture of near impunity where innocent civilians can be killed wantonly without fear of censure. Among the poorest and most disenfranchised people in Pakistan, those who live in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have little to no means of obtaining redress for harm which has been caused to them and lack the ability to even raise awareness of their plight. It is in this light that legal campaigners such as Akbar have taken it upon themselves to bring attention to those killed in the CIA campaign and to win some measure of legal protection for those innocent civilians who continue to be targeted. As Akbar described the conditions of the disenfranchised rural people whom he campaigns for; “People are scared….I’ve interviewed some neighbors whose next-door house was hit, and I could feel what they’re feeling, because they’re feeling this imminent threat. And they are actually feeling helpless at the same time, because they have no other place to relocate, because a lot of them have no skills, no education, so they cannot relocate in any other part of Pakistan.”
Akbar is a lawyer and his effort to obtain justice for dead and wounded Pakistani civilians is an absolutely legal, civil society campaign to see that those responsible are held accountable for abuses, and that innocent civilians whose lives have been destroyed see some legal redress. In this context it is reasonable to assume that if there is nothing illegal or otherwise unsavoury going on, the CIA and U.S. government should have no objection to Akbar’s work and should allow him to continue unimpeded. Akbar is far from an anti-American figure and in fact is a former consultant for USAID in Pakistan, who has in the past helped assist the FBI investigate terrorism cases in the country. However, the U.S. government has not embraced his efforts to provide oversight to the CIA drone program and in fact is actively moving to silence him. Invited to speak at the International Drone Summit in D.C this month, Akbar has been forced to cancel his speaking engagement as the U.S. government has refused to grant him a visa. Attempting to speak on his work at Columbia University law school last year, he found himself in the same situation as U.S. officials denied his visa specifically to prevent him from sharing his findings directly with the U.S. public. [Continue reading…]