People in the United States imagine that drones fly to a target, launch their deadly missiles with surgical precision and return to a U.S. base hundreds or thousands of miles away. But drones are a constant presence in the skies above the North Waziristan tribal area in Pakistan, with as many as six hovering over villages at any one time. People hear them day and night. They are an inescapable presence, the looming specter of death from above.
And that presence is steadily destroying a community twice the size of Rhode Island. Parents are afraid to send their children to school. Women are afraid to meet in markets. Families are afraid to gather at funerals for people wrongly killed in earlier strikes. Drivers are afraid to deliver food from other parts of the country.
The routines of daily life have been ripped to shreds. Indisputably innocent people cower in their homes, afraid to assemble on the streets. “Double taps,” or secondary strikes on the same target, have stopped residents from aiding those who have been injured. A leading humanitarian agency now delays assistance by an astonishing six hours.
What makes this situation even worse is that no one can tell people in these communities what they can do to make themselves safe. No one knows who is on the American kill list, no one knows how they got there and no one knows what they can do to get themselves off. It’s all terrifyingly random. Suddenly, and without warning, a missile launches and obliterates everyone within a 16-yard radius.
This is what it means to live under drones. It has turned North Waziristan into the world’s largest prison, a massive occupied zone. A humanitarian worker who was in New York on 9/11 and is now working in North Waziristan told us that the atmosphere in the two places feels very much the same. The constant sense of terror is a feeling that knows no boundaries.