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Pakistani Tribal Leaders Push Back Against Increased Military Drone Use Along Afghan Border


The use of surveillance drones in Pakistan has outraged some in the country's tribal areas. (illustrative photo)

Pakistani tribal leaders in a conservative border region are complaining about surveillance drones flown by military and security services, saying they are an unwelcome intrusion and a violation of people's privacy.

Pakistani security forces have stepped up the use of drones to help monitor the porous borders with Afghanistan. But the issue is problematic in places like conservative Pashtun tribal regions, where, like in many Muslim societies, family privacy is paramount.

Tribal leaders have complained that their homes' privacy is being violated.

"We take this an insult to capture pictures of our houses where our women live," one tribal elder, Osman Maseed, told RFE/RL by phone. "Even in this hot weather, people sleep inside their rooms due to the hovering of the military drone cameras over our houses" -- as opposed to outside, on house roofs.

The drones are an "insult and a violation of their tribal customs and traditions," he said.

"They have no respect for our customs and traditions. We would not mind if the cameras hover over the uninhabited areas and mountains. But we would not accept them taking pictures of our houses," said Rafiullah, another resident of the village of Srarogha, in the border region of South Waziristan.

The issue has grown heated in the region, prompting a meeting with senior military officials this past week.

"We met [officials] in Srarogha to inform him about our concerns, but he said we have security issues," Maseed said.

"We endured every trouble for the sake of Pakistan's safety, but we will never accept this insult of photographing inside our houses using the drone camera," he added.

Saleh Shah, a former member of the national Senate from South Waziristan, condemned the practice as well, which he said violated previous agreements to not fly drones over residential areas.

Pakistani security forces have been conducting military operations in the country's tribal, border regions since 2005 against the Taliban.

In 2009, a military sweep through South Waziristan displaced about 500,000 people. Another sweep, five years later, in the neighboring district of North Waziristan, routed Taliban fighters and their families but also displaced over 1 million tribal residents from their houses and damaged their businesses and properties.

Pakistan declared victory against the Taliban, but locals complain that the militants are staging a gradual comeback.

In 2018, meanwhile, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement was formed to oppose what they said were the security services' aggressive searches, harassment at checkpoints, illegal killings, and forced disappearances.

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    Radio Mashaal

    Radio Mashaal is a public-service broadcaster providing a powerful alternative to extremist propaganda in Pakistan's remote tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.

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