By NBC News’ Carol Grisanti and Mushtaq Yusufzai
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The message from Washington to Pakistan was clear: there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to going after al-Qaida and Taliban targets in Pakistan’s lawless border areas. After all, Barack Obama warned during his presidential campaign that America must go after terrorist targets if Pakistan did not act first.
It should not have been a surprise, then, to Pakistanis when on Friday night, five missiles from remotely piloted Predator drones struck targets in the lawless tribal areas of North and South Waziristan – but it was.
The twin attacks killed 22 people, including some foreign militants, but also many civilians.
Supporters of the Pakistani Islamist party Jamat-e-Islami protest U.S. drone attacks in Karachi on Sunday.
Who’s in charge?
The Pakistan government quickly voiced its outrage. "These attacks can affect Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror," Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari told U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson the following day.
The foreign ministry followed up with a terse statement expressing "the sincere hope that the United States will review its policy." And Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani – already on record promising the country there would be no more drone attacks once Obama became president – was embarrassed
Adding to the government’s problems, many Pakistanis no longer believe their government is being honest when protesting the attacks.
"The people know that there is a tacit understanding between the government and the U.S. regarding the drone attacks," argued author and political commentator Zahid Hussain.
"This is not only fuelling outrage among the people, but is isolating the Pakistani army from the tribes people in those areas. And that affects Pakistan’s own authority to contain militancy," explained Hussain.
The anger now threatens to undermine the authority of the fledgling civilian government in Islamabad, which after one year in office, is still struggling to take control of rising militancy in the country.
Western security analysts argue that the attacks are necessary because the border areas are lawless and under the control of Taliban and al-Qaida militants – not the Pakistani government.
But many locals argue that innocent civilians are the main victims of the attacks. In North Waziristan, the drone strikes are leading to mental disorders, especially among women and children, according to Dr. Munir Ahmad, a 50-year-old psychiatrist in Miranshah, a city on the border with Afghanistan that is North Waziristan’s main population center.
"The situation among the people is alarming," he said. "The women and children are so frightened from hours of drones circling overhead and then the thunderous noise of the missile attacks that now even a door slamming frightens them to uncontrollable tears," he said.
Ahmad, who specializes in treating the effects of violence, told us that two years ago he used to treat about 10 patients a day for different mental disorders – he said he now sees around 160 patients a day suffering from uncontrollable fear and rage. "I am especially worried about long-term affects on the children," he said.
Mohammed Yaqoob, a grammar school teacher in Miranshah, blames the Pakistani government for failing to protect people from the drone attacks.
"The children are so afraid that they can’t concentrate on their lessons," Yaqoob told us. "They just sit in the classroom and look towards the sky watching the three or four drones that continuously hover over the town," he said. Yaqoob said that over 30 high schools have closed in North Waziristan because parents have pulled their kids out of school and sent them to live with relatives in safer cities.
Pakistani tribesmen indicate damages in a house hit by a suspected U.S. missile strike in Zharki village, near Miranshah, Pakistan.
Stepping up attacks
There have been 38 drone attacks in Pakistan since August – mostly in North and South Waziristan – more than three times as many as during the previous year. The drones usually fly at low altitudes in the evenings and strike at night when people are asleep.
U.S. officials point to the success of such attacks in killing many senior al-Qaida leaders, including Khalid Habib, the group’s deputy chief of operations, and Rashid Rauf, the alleged mastermind of a 2006 plot to blow up airliners.
And last week, in a sign of the growing cooperation between the United States and the Pakistani government over the drone attacks, Pakistani security forces captured Zabi-ul Taifi, a Saudi militant with a $5 million bounty on his head, in a sting operation in the Khyber tribal area.
Pakistani intelligence sources said a pilotless drone circled over the house where Taifi was holed up, while CIA agents sat in a car parked outside and watched as Pakistanis agents stormed inside. Taifi is the first senior al-Qaida figure to be captured rather than killed in a long time.
"The tribespeople are sandwiched between the all-powerful militants and the U.S. drones," said Haji Niamatullah Dawar, a resident of Mirali, North Waziristan – a 45 minute drive from the capital of Miranshah. "We have no choice now but to leave our homes and shift closer to peaceful cities like Lahore and Islamabad," he said.
Spawning more militants
Mohammed Wali, a farmer in Mirali, said that the drone attacks are causing some to join the militants.
"My neighbor was so furious when a drone killed his mother, two sisters and his 7-year-old brother last September that he filled his car with explosives and rammed it into a Pakistani army convoy," he said. "He had to avenge the death of his loved ones," Wali added. Twelve people, including ten Pakistani soldiers were killed.
"After disappointment, the next stage is aggression and then violence," said Ahmad, who believes that 90 percent of the tribes people in North Waziristan are suffering from some kind of mental illness due to the violence in the region. "I don’t have the capability to see so many patients who are mentally disturbed," he said. "And they can’t afford to be without help as they wait and wait for me to finally see them."
As thousands attended the funerals for the people killed in Friday’s drone attacks, tribal elders said that their great hopes that Obama would stop the attacks have been dashed.
"We are very disappointed now," said Malik Taj Mohammed, a chief in South Waziristan. "Why doesn’t President Obama understand that the problems we face are poverty and lack of development in our lands and spend his money trying to help us rather than kill us," he said.
Pakistanis outraged over continued drone attacks - World Blog - msnbc.com