Just two weeks ago four little children were playing happily as little children do, with laughter, games, jokes and a general contentment with life that only comes with the innocence of youth and is fostered by the love of a good family.
The children’s father, Muhammad Azam, 35, a taxi driver, was making a cross country journey in Pakistan with his customer. Little did Azam know that this journey in his cab would be his last and his journey in life too was about to come to a devastating end, that would leave four kids without their father.
Azam’s passenger was the chief of the Afghan Taliban and on May 21 the humble cab was targeted by a U.S. drone and utterly obliterated in a devastating strike aimed at tacking out the Taliban leader, regardless of the collateral damage.
The drone blew up the cab near Ahmad Wal town in Pakistan’s southwest Nushki district. Azam, a loving father, had no idea that Afghan Taliban Chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor who he was driving from the Iranian border to Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s southwest province of Balochistan, was his passenger.
“Today is the 10th day since Azam’s brutal murder, but I don’t know how to handle his distraught children. They have a lot of questions about the absence of their father, and I have nothing to tell them except saying that he has gone to another city to bring toys and sweets for them, but they know something bad has happened to their father,” Muhammad Qasim, Azam’s deeply-bereaved elder brother, told Xinhua in the Pakistani city of Taftan, a small town near the border crossing with Iran.
Azam left behind seven dependents, including a blind mother, a disabled brother, a widow and four children including an eight-year-old daughter Fatima, a six-year-old son Ali Haider, a four-year-old son Zahid and a three-year-old daughter Aiza.
The majority of the family members, especially the children and women, were not allowed to have a final look at Azam’s face, and his corpse in multiple unrecognizable pieces after the drone strike, was buried quickly after funeral prayers because it was decaying rapidly owing to horrendous burns.
Qasim said that they were shattered by Azam’s death because he was a wonderful father and husband and the sole breadwinner of their entire extended family, working hard everyday as an unassuming, humble and pleasant cab driver.
“I was the owner of the car, and Azam was driving this vehicle for the last nine years between Taftan and Quetta and we shared the profits. America has devastated our whole family, this attack didn’t kill only my brother, but it has also delivered darkness and fear to the future of his children. Who will feed them or bring them up now?” said Qasim, who himself is seriously ill and cannot work.
Qasim has also lodged a criminal case against the U.S. government, asking the Pakistani authorities to provide him with justice against the “cruelty”.
“I want to ask the world, what was his fault, what was the crime of his children that they were forced by the U.S. to become orphans at such a young age. The killers didn’t even think for a moment that some innocent man is driving the car who has no idea about the Taliban chief. We want justice and action against the U.S. authorities responsible for this brutal murder, and compensation for his children so that they can live a proper life,” Qasim told Xinhua.
According to Qasim, on the very day of the murder, Azam left for work at 7:00 a.m. (local time) in his white Toyota Corolla 2006 model, and picked up a passenger who called himself Wali Muhammad (a false identity assumed by the Taliban leader) for 14,000 Pakistani rupees (135 U.S. dollars) from a transport commission agent Habib Saoli at 9:30 a.m.
The distance was to be around 630 km from Taftan to Quetta. But, said Qasim, we received a phone call just before evening that the vehicle had caught fire.
Haji Khuda-i-Nazar, Azam’s uncle, told Xinhua that his nephew was innocent and he had no links with militancy. “I want to ask why he was murdered. I believe if he knew who was going to travel in his car, he would have refused,” said Nazar.
Azam’s kids are among thousands of Pakistani children who have been affected directly or indirectly by some 423 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan since June 18, 2004.
Saadullah is another young Pakistani who lost both of his legs in a missile strike by an unmanned U.S. aircraft in Sept. 2009 in North Waziristan, one of Pakistan’s northwest tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
“I was having dinner with my family when the drone attacked. When I woke up, I was in hospital without my legs and then found out my whole family was killed. What did we do to deserve this? I’ve lost everything,” said Saadullah, who was just 11 at the time of the fateful and heinous attack.
According to Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer fighting for the rights of civilian drone victims, more than 200 children are among at least 3,000 civilians killed by U.S. drone attacks in the northwest tribal regions of Pakistan.
“In 2010, I decided to take on the tough cases of drone attack victims in Pakistan after a U.S. drone hit a meeting of local tribal elders and killed around 50 civilians. At the start, there was only one complainant, but now there are 156 affected civilians who had filed complaints against the U.S. government,” said Akbar, who suffered a lot during this period, especially after blowing the cover of the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) station chief in Islamabad, by filing a legal case against him.
On Oct. 29, 2013, a Pakistani family including a nine-year-old girl, Nabila-ur-Rehman, and her brother, 13-year-old Zubair-ur-Rehman, who were injured and also lost their grandmother in a drone strike, testified before the U.S. Congress in Washington, but their lawyer Akbar was denied entry into the U.S. without being given any reason by immigration officials.
After years of long legal battles by Akbar, Pakistan’s high court in the northwest district of Peshawar declared the drone strikes illegal and directed the Pakistani government to register a complaint with the United Nations in 2013.
Later, in June 2014, the country’s Islamabad High Court ordered the registration of criminal cases under the charges of murder and conspiracy against two former station chiefs of the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) in Islamabad, namely, Jonathan Banks and John A. Rizzo for their alleged role in drone strikes in Pakistan.
The U.S. has compensated civilian victims of drone strikes in
Afghanistan, but not in Pakistan.
“The worst part of such strikes is that they kill or injure children and make them orphans. We have filed a case of 500 million U.S. dollars in reparations from the U.S. government. I believe that Pakistani victims will also receive justice one day, and they will be compensated,” said Akbar, who has also established the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a Pakistan-based charity for drone strike victims.