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Asia

Giving a face to Pakistan's drone victims

A group of Pakistani artists have come up with a novel idea of creating empathy among the US drone operators for victims of their strikes by placing huge posters of children in the country's restive tribal areas.

The United States has temporarily halted its controversial drone strikes in Pakistan to give Islamabad a chance to hold peace talks with Islamist insurgents. It carried out the last drone strike on December 26, 2013, in which three suspected militants were killed.

Washington has repeatedly justified the strikes, calling them a necessary action to safeguard America from possible terrorist attacks from overseas. So far, a number of key al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed in these attacks. The Pakistani government, however, denounces the use of unmanned aircrafts to target militants and claims that more civilians die in these attacks than Islamists. Islamabad also says the strikes are a violation of its sovereignty.

International human rights organizations say the number of civilians killed in drone strikes is quite high. The New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, reports that US drone strikes have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in Pakistan over the past eight years, many of whom were civilians.

The pictures show the art installation named Not A Bug Splat, of the Inside Out Project, a global participatory art project, initiated by the French photographer JR in Paksitan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Photo: Inside Out Project - Anadolu Agency)

Obama administration prefers drone strikes over other conventional ways to target militants

Empathy

A number of conservative political parties and local human rights organizations have organized rallies against the use of drones. These campaigns have mostly focused on criticizing the US government for committing "war crimes" and disrespecting Pakistan's authority. But recently, a group of Pakistani artists came up with a new way of addressing the issue: Instead of condemning the US, they have chosen to create "empathy" among the drone operators.

The #NotABugSplat project attempts to raise awareness against drone strikes in an unusual way. The term "bug splat" is used by the US-based drone pilots to refer to how victims look when seen through video cameras.

By giving a face to drone victims, the creators of the art project hopes the US drone pilots and policy makers will reconsider the deadly consequences of one of America's key counterterrorism programs. The artists, however, have chosen to remain faceless and have referred to themselves as an artist collective in Pakistan and the US. It is reported that French street artist JR is assisting the campaign.

Recently, the project organizers released a gigantic photograph, which they took from the air with the use of a mini-helicopter drone. The photograph is of a girl who lost her parents in one of the strikes in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

"From above, these people look tiny, they look like little bugs. We want to show the drone operators how these people look in reality. One hopes it will create some empathy and introspection," one of the artists told the news agency AFP on condition of anonymity.

Art for life's sake

A renowned Pakistani artist named Feica told DW that more such projects should be initiated to oppose not only drone strikes but all kinds of wars. "The project (#NotABugSplat) is powerful but it should not limit itself to a single issue. Artists have always come up with new ideas to promote peace," said Feica, who works for Pakistan's English daily, Dawn, and has been drawing political cartoons for more than three decades.

The artist believes that Pakistanis should use "artistic mediums" to vent their anger against political issues and not resort to violence. "Pakistan is an 'artless' country, unfortunately. On top of that, not many artists have a political inclination. Globally, artists have always played a key role in political movements. They should continue to do so."

"Effective" strikes

But not everyone is Pakistan is against drone strikes. Many Pakistani liberals, and a number of experts, actually believe that drones have been quite successful in destroying militants' hideouts in the country's tribal areas.

The pictures show the art installation named Not A Bug Splat, of the Inside Out Project, a global participatory art project, initiated by the French photographer JR in Paksitan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Photo: Inside Out Project - Anadolu Agency)

Rights organizations say many children have also been killed in drone strikes

Ali K. Chishti, a security and political analyst in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, told DW that the "drone strategy has worked out well for everyone except al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban." He said the drone strikes had forced militants to restrict their movements.

"Drone strikes are a huge political issue in Pakistan. However, both the military and political leadership privately accept that they have been very effective. We must not forget that it was a drone attack that killed Baitullah Mehsud, the man responsible for the assassination of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto."

Hakimullah Mehsud - the head of the Pakistani Taliban - was also killed in a US drone strike in November last year.

Journalist Asha'ar Rehman in Lahore says that the very fact that Washington continued to use drones to attack militants in Pakistan was proof that it did not trust the Pakistani government.

"Many people in Pakistan are of the view that drones have been able to contain militants," said Rehman, adding that the collateral damage had been the only point causing concern.

Feica is of the view that it is high time that the people killed in drone strikes and militants' attacks should be looked at as humans and not just as bugsplats.