In Pakistan, Drones Have Made Their Way Into Love Poems

“I am looking for you like a drone, my love. You have become Osama, no one knows your whereabouts.”

Pakistani victims of a US drone attack Naima (L) and Saima (R) rest on a bed after they arrived with their brothers and sisters from the North Waziristan area of Ghundai Village for treatment in Peshawar on November 3, 2012, after US missile hit near their house on October 24. A US drone fired two missiles at a suspected militant compound in northwest Pakistan, killing three people, security officials said.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
May 12, 2014, 3:35 p.m.

IS­LAMABAD — In Pakistan’s north­w­est tri­bal re­gion, where drones hum over­head and mil­it­ants hide, this is ro­mantic: “I am look­ing for you like a drone, my love,” a verse of a loc­al folk poem says. “You have be­come Osama, no one knows your where­abouts.”

When Amer­ic­ans talk about drones, they en­vi­sion ter­ror­ist tar­gets in faraway lands. When Wash­ing­ton pun­dits talk about drones, they ques­tion wheth­er push-but­ton com­bat im­pedes in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing or if ci­vil­ians are ac­ci­dent­al cas­u­al­ties.

But for those who live in the areas bom­barded by armed drones, shad­owy U.S. war­fare has in­fec­ted cul­ture. Drones, re­por­ted to have killed at least 2,500 people in Pakistan alone, are fea­tured in the mu­sic and po­etry cre­ated there.

An Is­lamabad-based re­search group tracked the im­pact of the war on ter­ror­ism on Pashto lit­er­at­ure and art in the Fed­er­ally Ad­min­istered Tri­bal Areas, speak­ing with artists, po­ets, and lit­er­ary fig­ures to il­lus­trate the cul­tur­al trans­form­a­tion since the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks.

“As a war was ini­ti­ated on the soil of Pash­tuns al­most im­me­di­ately … the blood­shed, bomb blasts, drone at­tacks, and aer­i­al fir­ing com­pelled writers to for­get ever­green top­ics of love, ro­mance, and nature,” said the FATA Re­search Cen­ter’s March re­port. “The vi­ol­ent cir­cum­stances that rose from the ashes of 9/11 com­pelled Pashto liter­ati to write about broken fam­il­ies, severed limbs “¦ rather than silky curls and rosy cheeks of their be­loveds.”

Those tra­di­tion­al, flowery im­ages are some­times com­bined with the war ma­chines in art. A pop­u­lar Pashto sing­er, Sit­ara Younis sings: “The touch of my lips sweeten words. In­tox­ic­at­ing as wine are my looks. My gaze is as fatal as a drone at­tack.”

Younis’s pop­u­lar songs play on the ra­dio and at wed­dings. Her oth­er hit has an even dark­er theme: “Don’t chase me, I’m a trick,” she sings, warn­ing a man to keep his dis­tance. “I’m a sui­cide bomb.”

The vi­ol­ence in art re­flects how dra­mat­ic­ally life has changed in the tri­bal areas over the last dec­ade. Av­er­age Pash­tuns, the re­port found, now un­der­stand the mean­ing of Eng­lish words such as “drone,” “ter­ror­ist,” and “sui­cide blast.” Chil­dren ref­er­ence the Taliban and the Army in games. Many fam­il­ies were too afraid to in­vite guests to their homes after the drone cam­paign began for fear they could not pro­tect them, says Ir­fan Ud­din, a FATA Cen­ter re­search­er.

Some artists refer spe­cific­ally to the Taliban as in­ten­ded tar­gets of the U.S. strikes. “Your eyes are no less than a drone,” one poem reads. “They turned me in­to ashes, as I was fa­cing them like a mem­ber of the Taliban.”

When Ud­din lived in Mir­an­shah to con­duct re­search, he saw how drones could in­spire the acute fear that formed the basis for the art and po­etry to fol­low. He was sit­ting in a court­yard one day when a friend calmly said, “The drone is com­ing.”

“I did feel it com­ing, but I nev­er saw it,” Ud­din said. “I got up, and star­ted run­ning to the house. It was the most aw­ful mo­ment in my life.”

A Pashto sing­er, Nazia Iqbal, high­lights those feel­ings of help­less­ness in her poems: “My love, you are far away from me, and these drones will tar­get you. I am help­less and can’t stop them, and my tears are drop­ping from my eyes as if wa­ter is drop­ping from a spring.”

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