Trying to decipher facts from a multitude of disjointed news stories is never an easy task.
Let’s begin with the simple facts first:
At about 3 am on the morning of 13th January a series of powerful missiles fired from a CIA-controlled Predator drone destroyed three mud house compounds, killing some 18 men, women and children, in the village of Damadola Burkanday in tehsil Mamoon of Bajaur agency located in Pakistan’s NWFP Province.
Later a new report informed us that the three mud house compounds belonged to the families of Bakhtpur, Muhammad Rahim and Bacha Khan.
Subsequently we obtained fresh knowledge from a Pakistani intelligence official who provided information to the Guardian:
'The official said that hours before the strike some unidentified guests had arrived at the home of a tribesman named Shah Zaman.'Another source then informed us that the ‘suspect’ Shah Zaman was a brother of Bakhtpur (who died in the attack). So we may surmise, that in all likelihood, Shah Zaman and Bakhtpur lived in the same family housing compound as is the common tradition in most of the tribal and rural belts of Pakistan.
Apart from losing his brother Bakhtpur, the ‘suspect’ Shah Zaman also lost a number of his children in the missile attack. He told the reporters from the UK Observer
'This is a big lie... Only our family members died in the attack,' said Shah Zaman, a jeweller who lost two sons and a daughter in the attack. 'They dropped bombs from planes and we were in no position to stop them... or to tell them we are innocent. I don't know [al-Zawahiri]. He was not at my home. No foreigner was at my home when the planes came and dropped bombs.'________________________________________________________
As hordes of reporters descended upon the village, we heard from:
The Associated Press who met with:
Then the Guardian told us:
[Shah] Zaman's neighbour, Shamroze Khan, 55, [confirmed that] he had never noticed any foreigner in their compound before.
A reporter from Newsweek, who also reached Damadola, was also told the same thing by the villagers: only locals died. While there he came across Muhammad Rahim, one of the other owners of the destroyed mud house compounds. This how Newsweek reported him:
Local lawmaker Sahibzada Haroon ur Rashid, who visited Damadola soon after the attack, said the dead had been buried and that no foreigners were among them. They came from a local family of jewelers, he said, adding that none of the bodies was burned so badly that identification was difficult.
Mohammed Rahim, 70, owner of one of the destroyed houses, wailed that several in his family had been killed. "I can't feed my own family. How could I afford to be hosting Zorayi?" he said, mispronouncing Zawahiri's name.________________________________________________________
Could Shah Zaman have invited Zawahiri for dinner? I, for one, go along with BBC’s analysis:
The destroyed houses belonged to local jewellers, who had no history of taking part in religious or tribal politics.Analysts of Pashtun (Pathan) society say such people are not land-owners and do not command the kind of status or respect to invite a militant leader of the stature of Ayman al-Zawahiri for dinner, as some reports have suggested.
Early on an adamant senior Pakistani intelligence officer, commenting on CIA’s missile attack, told Associated Press’s Riaz Khan ( as reported in the Guardian) :
‘Their information was wrong, and our investigations conclude that they acted on a false information,'' said a senior intelligence official who has direct knowledge of the investigations launched by Pakistan to look into the attacks.’
And so we have a picture, not precisely clear but enough for our purposes to draw the following conclusions:
- It was Shah Zaman whose house was targeted by the CIA because the agency ‘believed’ that Zawahiri would be his overnight visitor at the time of the attack.
- There were no members of the Al Qaeda present. Though at a stretch, even if on the remote chance there were outsider guests present, they would have been fellow Pathans from Afghanistan, but not necessarily terrorist though - perhaps religious and therefore pro-Taliban as many of them tend to be.
"At least four to five foreign elements had also been killed in the incident, but their bodies were removed from the scene within no time by their companions, so as to suppress the actual reason of the attack," (New York Times).The logical question then becomes: Since when, under a military regime, does a lowly Tribal Area PA have the cojones to make such a dramatic and completely unsubstantiated allegation to the world press?
Herein lieth the answer - under an appropriately titled piece Confusion Shrouds Pakistan Attack -Regional Officials Report Foreign Militants Killed the Washington Post, while reporting Fahim Wazir’s unsupported claim, quite shrewdly notes:
‘The Pakistani report bolstered earlier U.S. assertions of strong pre-strike intelligence that a group of al Qaeda figures was in the immediate area.The picture becomes suddenly obvious - yes, while there were no ‘terrorists’ in Damadola, the military regime has to ensure its survival. So now we can see a two-pronged approach emanating from Islamabad:
- Placate the infuriated local populace by allowing Pakistani diplomats to ever so hesitantly take the US ‘to task’ so that it can be splashed all over in the Urdu press.
- Then soothe the embarrassment of the CIA - and possibly appease the US intelligence agency's anger at having been provided faulty information from Pakistan - by suggesting to the world that Americans may have been right all along, as it was simply a case of sheer bad luck that prevented them from getting their target.