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The price of a life: Compensating victims of terrorism

Updated Jul 22, 2016 04:46pm

The old village of Malik Raza Khan looks haunted. In this rural part of Charsadda district, poverty and neglect have eroded the mortar between the bricks of crumbling houses; the elements eating into the walls. The most visible sign of life here are green fields of bitter gourd, plump red tomatoes, okra and eggplant.

There is another abundant harvest here: of death, of lives brutally cut short by terrorism. It has numbed its victims into silence, sapping whole families of their life force, turning them into mere shadows of their former selves.

On a hot July afternoon last year when the dozing fields were abuzz with the shrill snoring of cicadas, a young villager clad in a soiled vest knocks at a guest room in the village to stir a shadow awake. The old door, bleached by a blistering sun, creaks open after several knocks, sending yellow wasps hovering into hot air. An old face peers out of the dark, blinks confusedly at the bright day and the unexpected guests.

“There are people here to talk to you, baba,” the young man tells the old one, who nods uncomprehendingly but opens the door wide. There are several charpoys inside, lined against the walls. Against one wall hangs a straw prayer mat. Despite the sunlight streaming in from the open door, despite the whitewashed walls, gloom lurks in the corners of this thatched mud structure.

At first, Hazrat Jan appears reticent. He speaks in monosyllables, with a distant look in his eyes. He is uncomfortable; a proud old man not sure how to speak of his grief, certainly not to a stranger. Or perhaps he is trying to protect himself from the embarrassment of breaking down. He clenches his jaw as he speaks of his son, Azam Jan, looking around uncertainly with red-rimmed eyes. Hazrat Jan is a man resigned to his fate.

“It is all up to me now,” he says. A school guard who raised his son to become a driver in the police, only to lose him in a bomb attack on a polio vaccination team in January 2014, Hazrat Jan now finds himself caring for four grandchildren. “The children are all that is left of my son,” he says.

The children come in, one by one. They stand together expectantly, a sad tableau of orphans, the girl nestling close to her protective grandfather. Theirs is a bold gaze, a confident handshake. Unlike their grandfather who has been shattered by this loss so late in life, they are brimming with the zest of youth like all boys and girls of their age, undeterred by the raw deal fate has dealt them.

Children lose fathers – to disease, calamity, war – all the time; this is what their calm faces seem to convey. Fathers should not bury their sons is what Hazrat Jan would have said, had he been expressive. As would other fathers in the surrounding villages who have lost sons to the war on terror in recent years. Violent death brought on by acts of terror has reversed the natural cycle of life in this part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

To find elderly men left behind to mourn their young sons in villages here is not difficult, given the large number of men recruited from the area as policemen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The police here are usually the first line of defence against the terrorists, and a major target of acts of terrorism.

Hazrat Jan brings in a baby dressed in white, held in the nook of his arm. It is a boy with the plump red face of a seraph, clinging to his grandfather at the sight of strangers in the room. Essa is a little under a year old, Hazrat Jan says, born after Azam Jan’s death.

It is the first time that he mentions his son’s name, as if he has been avoiding saying it. Now that he does, Hazrat Jan breaks down. And not for the first time during that scorching afternoon, he leaves the room to regain his composure.


Remnants left behind after the brutal attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar | White Star
Remnants left behind after the brutal attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar | White Star

It is only 11 am and people drained by the day’s heat are already shuffling listlessly through the dim narrow corridors of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police headquarters. There is a “martyrs’ desk” here to process payments of compensation to the families of policemen fallen victims to terrorism. Azam Jan’s name is buried among a long list of many others whose heirs are awaiting money and other rewards promised to them as compensation for their loss.

As per the official compensation plan, the police department will continue paying Azam Jan’s salary till the day he would have retired had he lived. The government also pays the tuition fee for his children’s education, his father has been given money in lieu of a residential plot and either his son or brother will get a job in the provincial police — preferably as an Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI).

In a province where even a traffic cop has to be accompanied by another, armed with a gun for protection from drive-by target killings, and where terrorists target law enforcers more frequently than they target any other institution of the government, more than 1,200 policemen have lost their lives to terrorist attacks since 2006. Out of these, 306 have died in terror incidents in Peshawar alone. A majority of the 1,200 plus – 835 to be exact – were constables. Others include celebrated senior officers such as Malik Saad, Sifwat Ghayur and Abid Ali.

It is in keeping with these losses that the spending on hiring, training, equipping, protecting and taking care of the police force has tripled over the last five years or so. Between 2009 and 2014, the strength of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police has risen from 41,000 to 63,682. Salaries of the personnel have been doubled and a robust compensation policy, called Shuhada Package (a package for the martyrs), has been put in place.

Under this package, a one-time payment of compensation amount has been revised upwardly since 2009, and is supplemented with other perks such as the payment of monthly salary till the time the dead policemen would have retired, a lifelong pension to their widows, residential plots for their families and free medical treatment and education of their heirs. “…most of the funds…go towards [the payment of] salaries and compensation for families of persons killed in the line of duty,” wrote Mohammad Ali Khan Babakhel, a Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of the provincial police, in a recent column in daily Dawn.

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Families of the fallen policemen in Charsadda have received portions of this martyrs’ package but many complain that the jobs promised to them have not materialised. Further north from Malik Raza Khan village, where the winding Charasadda–Swat road runs along a gushing canal feeding a network of irrigation streams, is Azghay Banda — ‘the village of thorns’. Boisterous little boys, their shirts knotted around their slender waists as make-do swimming trunks, throw sticks down the rippling stream lapping furiously after them in a noisy game of catch. Everyone here seems to know the way to Daud Khan’s house, including the sniffling boy with a bony ribcage. He points to an open street facing the fields.

Among a row of nondescript houses – the floral, colourful curtains hanging at their main gates being the only distinction between one and another – is Daud Khan’s humble abode, standing apart because of the small emblem of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police that adorns its entrance. The emblem bears his name and mentions him as a constable but he now rests in a grave at the mouth of the village, where the sparkling confetti which covers his final resting place ripples with a dry lonely rustle in the afternoon breeze, intensifying the silence of the small graveyard. A 29-year-old martyr adorned in the manner of a bridegroom.

Among his family members, in a crowded mud-walled room of his house, is Daud Khan’s bereaved father — a lanky 67-year-old who laboured in the Gulf States for 25 years to be able to raise children back home. When Daud Khan was killed in a bomb attack in April 2015, government officials promised at his funeral that his brother would be inducted into the police force as part of the compensation package. To the old man, the promise was heartening. It offered a sustainable source of income after the family had lost its principal earning hand.

Daud Khan’s younger brother was expected to get that job since his own sons are too young to qualify. His brother gave up a job with the Sindh Rangers and returned home from Karachi so that he could work closer to home. It appears he made that decision in haste. The promised job is not likely to become available anytime soon.

The authorities have found out that like the five marla plots of land promised to the heirs of martyrs, they have run out of jobs for the many eligible heirs as well. Hiring them on the five per cent seats reserved for the heirs of policemen killed in service will entail more than a decade to employ them all. By that time, most of them will have become older than the age limit set for joining.

Marzia holds a picture of her two sons killed in 2013 | Aurangzaib Khan
Marzia holds a picture of her two sons killed in 2013 | Aurangzaib Khan

Some of the 320 families awaiting such postings are running out of patience. In January 2015, Murshid Khan, son of Khurshid Alam, a superintendent of the police who had died in a terrorist attack, moved the Peshawar High Court to push the government to deliver on its promise to employ these people. The court ordered the provincial government to increase the quota to create jobs for the relatives of policemen lost to terrorism. “That will take up 50 per cent of all ASI seats available,” says Mubarak Zeb, the DIG Headquarters at the central police office in Peshawar. His department has suggested that the provincial government create 600 ASI positions for the heirs, relaxing the age limit by as much as 10 years.

The same problem exists in Balochistan where 18 policemen were killed in just three months in 2015 — between June and August. The government has been struggling to give jobs to the heirs of these police martyrs — even as constables and clerks. The rank promised to them is that of ASI but the provincial police say all of them cannot be hired in that rank because that will upend the service structure of the entire department. If 500 ASIs are hired today, there will be no posts available in that rank for promoting people from the lower ranks for a very long time to come, says Balochistan Police DIG Razzaque Cheema. “It upsets the whole hierarchy.”

Though the number of policemen in Balochistan has multiplied in recent years due to the deteriorating security situation, resource constraints have ensured that their salaries remain lower than their counterparts in other provinces. To bypass the lack of money required to employ a full-time, regular policeman, the provincial government has also hired a large number of cops on contracts that make them eligible to receive only a lump sum monthly salary with no additional benefits. If a contractual policeman loses his life to a terrorist attack, his heirs do not have the right to claim any compensation at all.


In Skardu, there are uncanny echoes of certain neighbourhoods of Quetta. Even the names of the places have an identifiable similarity — Alamdar Road, Hussaini Chowk. The stories of people having lost family members to terrorism have a familiar ring to them at the two places.

Syed Mohammad’s shop is on a street off Hussaini Chowk, an intersection of roads starkly bereft of a monument that adorns most other public spaces in town — mountain goats frozen atop plinths carved out of rocks, their spiral horns iridescent in the cold, morning sun. The Chowk makes up for its lack of appeal to outsiders with something relevant to the locals — it is where the Shia mourning processions congregate on the 10th of Muharram every year.

The smell of detergents mixed with that of spices welcomes visitors to the shop crowded with piles of packaged products — from washing materials to lollipops and everything in between. Behind the counter where Syed Mohammad struggles to keep up with the morning swell of customers is the picture of a handsome young man leaning against an iron railing, with a lake in the backdrop. A red helmet in the nook of his arm, Syed Roohullah looks at the world through black aviators with youthful insouciance. He was Syed Mohammad’s younger brother, only 22 when he and eight other people were killed on April 3, 2012, in a targeted shooting by sectarian militants. The attackers segregated Shia travellers on a bus – checking their backs for marks of self-flagellation – and killed them, in a grisly sequel to an incident in February that year in which 16 people were also killed.

At the time, the Gilgit Baltistan government announced to pay one million rupees as compensation to the heirs of each of the April attack victims, in keeping with what was paid to the families of those killed two months earlier. They received the compensation money within 90 days. The then federal government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) separately announced one million rupees in compensation for the families of each victim, but that money never came through, says Syed Mohammad, or at the least didn’t come through for all the families.

For those in Gilgit Baltistan and Balochistan who have been losing loved ones to sectarian killings, compensation is an inadequate substitute for the security their country’s constitution promises them. It is no surprise, then, that compensation in cash or kind is the last thing that a Shia resident of Gilgit Baltistan or a Hazara Shia in Quetta asks for. All they ask for is security — and justice.

“Compensation is not our demand — justice is,” says Syed Mohammad. “They took down our people from buses and killed them. Their faces are known [from the videos later released by the attackers] but no one has been arrested. The police are in league with the killers,” he alleges.

The villages are not afraid of flaunting their sectarian identity — anti-Shia sectarian graffiti is everywhere.

In another similarity between the two regions, Hazaras in Quetta feel the same way. “Quetta has two beautiful open air jails,” says Hussain Turani, a resident of Hazara Town in that city. They are beautiful because they are clean and organised compared to the rest of the city, save the army cantonment of course, which is orderly everywhere. “One is Mariabad Town along Alamdar Road and the other is Hazara Town. You can move around them but you cannot leave them,” he says.

Try venturing into Hazara Town and you will know what Turani means. According to media reports, the last bomb blast here in 2013 killed 85 people, with the explosives hidden in a water container. Like most neighbourhoods in Quetta where water has become increasingly scarce over the years due to droughts, Hazara Town does not have sufficient water supply. A water container, a frequent sight in the streets of Quetta, was the last thing one would suspect of delivering death, so no one checked it. The town has two access points but the one through Brewery Road has been closed since the 2013 bombing and the other through Kirani Road is guarded by the Frontier Constabulary (FC). Anyone going in or out has to leave their identity cards with soldiers or have someone from the town come out to receive them.

Survivors of the Abbas Town bomb blast stand outside their apartments a day after the incident | AFP
Survivors of the Abbas Town bomb blast stand outside their apartments a day after the incident | AFP

Many rundown villages – Killi Geo, Killi Kambrani, Kechi Beg – with open sewers, broken dusty roads and skeletal, hollow-eyed residents dot Kirani Road as it leads to Hazara Town. The villages are not afraid of flaunting their sectarian identity — anti-Shia sectarian graffiti is everywhere. They are also believed to be safe havens for sectarian killers who come in from the nearby Saryab and Mastung areas to hide here.

With more than 2,000 lives claimed by acts of terrorism since 1999, and around 4,000 others having been injured and maimed, Hazaras in Quetta have genuine reasons to demand sustainable security and a functional compensation scheme. “When someone dies, they don’t die alone,” says Turani, a teacher and activist. “The entire family dies with them because terror victims are mostly poor people.”

Many who died in 2013 bombing were refugees from Afghanistan and, therefore, not entitled to compensation from the Pakistani state. Only the heirs of half of the victims, says Turani, received compensation.

Even those who received one million rupees under the civilian compensation package could only do so after months of running around, the process delayed by red-tapism, verification and mistaken names in the First Information Report (FIR). There are also instances of the police asking bereaved families to produce the injured as well as the mutilated bodies of the dead at the police station for verification. As Turani puts it, heirs have received official help but “they had to buy an extra pair of shoes to wear them out in pursuit of compensation.”

Women who had lost male members of their families were required to make frequent visits to government offices to receive compensation even when the idea of leaving the safety of their neighbourhoods is, perhaps, as perilous as being caught in a terror attack. “How many of them can I help?” asks Turani. “I can go with 10 of them but when the numbers run in hundreds, going to the commissioner’s house daily is not safe for myself, either.”

In some cases, says Haji Hassan Agha of the Noor Welfare Foundation, a non-government organisation that assists Hazara victims of terrorism, the police call the members of his community to Mastung since the killings for which they are seeking compensation happened there. The only problem with that is that Mastung is a hornet’s nest of anti-Shia sectarian groups and the site of many deadly attacks on Hazaras travelling through it.

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It is not uncommon to hear the families of civilian victims of terrorism saying they received only half the amount of compensation they were entitled to. While some of them say they received the compensation amount quickly and with little hassle, there are many others who complain that they have been robbed of their due. Ignorance among the families of the victims about the compensation process and corruption in the concerned government departments are jointly responsible for these complaints.

The heirs of victims are disadvantaged by the complicated processes and procedures even when they are fair. In Balochistan, compensation can only be claimed when the FIR is registered under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). If a person – whether civilian or from the law enforcement agencies – is killed in a targeted attack and his family fails to get an FIR registered under that section, no compensation is paid. Again, the police are generally reluctant to register cases under anti-terrorism laws to avoid censure from their superiors and the bad press they may get over increasing incidents of terrorism under their watch.

This problem is perhaps most acute in Karachi, the city people from all over the country gravitate towards for jobs. Shias from Gilgit, Pakhtuns from the tribal areas and Hazaras from Quetta have been killed in incidents of target attacks but often their heirs receive no compensation because their killing is seldom seen as terrorism.

Delay in compensation payment is caused by both problems at the official procedural level and a lack of awareness among those entitled to it. They often do not know how, and wherefrom, to get the required documents and have them verified.

A young man mourns next to the coffin of his relative, killed in a deadly attack in Quetta on January 11, 2013 | AP
A young man mourns next to the coffin of his relative, killed in a deadly attack in Quetta on January 11, 2013 | AP

The official process starts when the heirs submit applications for compensation to the district compensation committee which, in turn, sends it to the commissioner’s office where scrutiny and verification are initiated. These processes involve the home department, the finance department, the commissioner’s office and the chief minister’s secretariat. If there is a single mistake somewhere or a lone document is missing, the application goes back through the whole process again to rectify the mistake or add the missing document. Those with political and bureaucratic links often leap over the red tape but most others have to wait in queues and pay multiple visits to a dozen government offices to receive compensation. Even after a cheque has been made, many of the poor and illiterate heirs do not have bank accounts – a mandatory requirement to cash that cheque.

In a 2014 terrorist attack at R A Bazaar in Rawalpindi, a man from Kashmir working as a cook at a local restaurant was killed. It took his widow more than a year to get 300,000 rupees in compensation.

“The process could be simplified if the commissioner has (sufficient) funds up to 10 million rupees for quick dispensation,” says Kambar Dashti, the commissioner of Quetta. Sometimes, such simplification does happen on the orders of a provincial chief executive. After the 2013 blasts in Hazara Town, Zulfiqar Magsi, the governor of Balochistan at the time, ordered government officials to ignore some of the minor procedural requirements to expedite the payment of compensation, says Qasim Mengal, the additional commissioner of Quetta.

The residents of Hazara Town claim many families still failed to get the compensation money because the government put the total number of deaths at less than half of what it actually was. The authorities refused to entertain more applications after the payments were made to the families in accordance with the official death toll.

Such discretion as exercised by Magsi often creates more problems than it addresses. The heirs of those who lost their lives in a 2009 bombing of Lahore’s Moon Market received one million rupees each within 10 days (because the chief minister of Punjab himself was overseeing the compensation payment) whereas the families of those killed in a cattle market in Dera Ghazi Khan received only 300,000 rupees each — and that, too, after two years.

“The state needs to be above preferential treatment,” says Ahmad Ali, a research fellow at the Institute of Social And Policy Studies (I-SAPS) that has helped the Balochistan government draft pioneering laws on compensation. His organisation is also working with the other provincial governments and that of Gilgit Baltistan to devise a more or less uniform compensation policy for the whole of Pakistan.

Most compensation is paid under executive orders. In the absence of a compensation law backed by rules and regulations for its implementation, the provincial governments do not have a specific head of expenditure in their annual budgets which can show the source and amount of money allocated for compensation, says Ali.

There is also no consolidated record in any province on how much has been paid in compensation and to whom. As things stand today, except in Sindh, funds for compensation mainly come from what in official parlance is called “block allocation”, which is another name for non-specified expenditure. This, then, allows provincial governments to arbitrarily decide how to pay the compensation, to whom and in what amount.

Delay in compensation payment is caused by both problems at the official procedural level and a lack of awareness among those entitled to it.

Consider these cases. The compensation paid to the families of more than 40 people killed in a Friday prayer bombing in an imambargah in Sialkot during October 2004 was half of what was paid to the families of 40 people killed the same month in Multan at a Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) rally, protesting the assassination of their leader Azam Tariq. The Department of Tribal and Home Affairs in Balochistan refused to compensate the families of more than 60 people killed in a blast at a Shia procession on September 3, 2010, because, the provincial authorities said, the procession had deviated from its legally sanctioned route. In 2005, an enraged procession of the Shia community set fire to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant at Babul Ilm in Karachi, burning to death its six employees who were hiding in deep freezers to save their lives. The government paid no compensation to the families of the victims because the fire was not deemed an act of terrorism.

On the contrary, there are instances of compensation paid to terrorists. Arshad Ali Polka, an SSP activist, was arrested on charges of terrorism in 2003 but was released on bail following a judicial remand. The very next day, he led a hit squad that targeted Sunni Tehrik’s founding chief, Salim Qadri, and killed him in an ambush in Karachi. Polka died in the shootout following the ambush but authorities in Sindh declared him a civilian victim of terrorism, paying one and a half million rupees to his family. Whether that was intentional or an inadvertent mistake is hard to establish.

These instances raise a question. If an individual or a group attacks another individual or another group, resulting in the deaths of civilians, how does the state see that incident — as terrorism or criminal violence?

A letter urging law enforcing agencies to expedite the compensation process for victims of terrorism | Aurangzaib Khan
A letter urging law enforcing agencies to expedite the compensation process for victims of terrorism | Aurangzaib Khan

Discretionary compensation also distorts and undermines the administrative and legal systems at every level. During a security operation in Karachi during the 1990s, the government announced head money for the capture or killing of many Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) activists allegedly involved in target killings and other violent criminal activities. After the operation, the army claimed head money from the provincial authorities for having captured or killed hundreds of those activists. But when Pervez Musharraf, as the head of the same army, required MQM’s support for his post-1999 coup administration, he declared all the party activists who had lost their lives during the operation as civilian victims of violence, thus rendering their families eligible for receiving compensation for their deaths.

Discretion also means that different compensation policies exist in different provinces – until recently Punjab would pay one and a half million rupees to the family of each civilian victim of terrorism whereas Khyber Pakhtunkhwa pays only half a million rupees. This could be because Punjab has more resources and has had fewer fatalities in incidents of terrorism when compared to other provinces, especially Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says Tahir Waheed Malik, a retired major who lost his wife in a 2009 bombing at the World Food Programme office in Islamabad. He now works with the families of terrorism victims for their emotional and financial rehabilitation.

Under the Seventh National Finance Commission Award (NFC), the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has been getting one per cent of the total federal divisible pool of money to compensate for the damage caused by terrorism in the province. This translates into roughly 20 billion rupees a year and more than 100 billion rupees over the last five years or so after the award was first announced in 2009-2010. The province asked for the amount to be raised to five per cent of the NFC last month and yet the compensation paid in the province remains less than what is paid in other provinces. The provincial authorities argue that this is because the number of casualties in incidents of terrorism has been far bigger in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa than in any other province and the provincial financial resources have been meager even after the arrival of all the billions of rupees from the federal government.

What makes this argument look misplaced, if not entirely wrong, is that the same provincial government pays three million rupees in compensation to the family of a junior level government official killed in an act of terrorism. “The provincial government should have been more caring and compassionate” towards civilians, says a human rights activist based in Islamabad. For the sake of transparency and equity, he says, “the federal government will be within its right to ask the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government for the details and manner in which funds received from the federal divisible pool are spent.”

The gap between the official casualty figures and those put together by non-government organisations, however, makes it hard to track the money spent on compensation. One of the most well-known instances of this discrepancy is the death toll in the 2013 bomb blasts in Hazara Town, Quetta. The government says 85 people were killed; the residents of Hazara Town dispute the number, saying more than 195 lives were lost. “We know because we buried our dead,” says Turani.

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Even at the national level, the total casualty figure ranges anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000, depending on who you ask. Apart from the government departments, four main sources report terrorism-related deaths in Pakistan: the Delhi-based South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Policy Studies (PIPS), the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and the National Crisis Cell at the federal interior ministry. All of them mainly use media reports for gathering statistics which makes them unreliable because figures vary from one news report to another.

Some people in the government also accuse SATP of “bloating the numbers” because of its negative bias towards Pakistan. They also contend that only the figures collected and compiled by the government are reliable, but even there discrepancies exist. The National Crisis Cell data does not tally with that collated by home departments in the provinces, for example.

Such discrepancies inevitably lead to criticism of the government’s handling of the compensation process. “How can we expect compensation for all the families of the victims when the government does not even have data on all the deaths,” says Ahmad Ali Kohizad, general secretary of the humanitarian wing of the Hazara Democratic Party in Balochistan. “Do they know how many orphans there are or how many orphans give up studies to work so they can make ends meet?”

Absence of authentic statistics on deaths and compensation has led to “politics of data” where a province or an organisation seek or claim resources based on guesstimates rather than verifiable and documented numbers. “It all depends on what a provincial government wants to sell,” says an Islamabad-based policy expert. “The bigger the number of people hit by terrorism in a province, the more that province will be justified in demanding additional resources.”

A recent and extraordinarily highlighted case that demonstrates flaws in the compensation regime is that of the Army Public School (APS). Firstly, like many among the Shia community elsewhere, some parents devastated by the loss of their children in the attack have refused to receive compensation, demanding a judicial inquiry and asking many uneasy questions about the state’s deep complicity in supporting militants.

Security personnel and rescue workers gather at  the All Saints Church in Peshawar after a suicide blast | Abdul Majeed Goraya, White Star
Security personnel and rescue workers gather at the All Saints Church in Peshawar after a suicide blast | Abdul Majeed Goraya, White Star

Secondly, given that the school bears an army tag, the compensation paid to the families of those killed there far outweighs what is usually offered to civilians elsewhere. It was also an instance where the government’s support for mostly military families of the victims became public due to media attention — as opposed to the army’s institutional support for families of soldier victims. Even though this compensation is in no way the same as the closely guarded regime covering soldiers killed or maimed in the line of duty, it sheds light on the “preferential treatment” that makes ordinary citizens question the fairness of compensation policies.

The government says 85 people were killed; the residents of Hazara Town dispute the number, saying more than 195 lives were lost. “We know because we buried our dead,” says Turani.

In the immediate aftermath of the APS tragedy, the provincial government offered 500,000 rupees to the family of each dead child as per its 2013 compensation policy. Soon the figure was revised to two million rupees, with the government resorting to using money to pacify tempers, in violation of its own established practices. Some of the injured were also taken abroad to countries such as China on government expense for treatment, with Bahria Town paying for the treatment of one of them in England. As the state, the government and the private sector rallied around the families of the APS attack victims, the heirs of many civilians killed elsewhere in the country were hoping they could get similar attention and assistance someday.


The Sunday church service seemed longer than usual to Ishaq John on September 23, 2013. He had organised a niaz – a charity lunch – for those attending the service at the All Saints Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate, a crowded neighbourhood in the city’s old quarters. John was worrying about food distribution because the turnout at the service was large even though his entire family was there to help him. As soon as the service ended, he rushed out of the church building – a striking 1883 structure, resembling the architecture of a mosque replete with white minarets and a dome – to usher in the cooks, with large vats of cooked rice, through the security at the gate.

By the time food was brought in, the nearly 500 participants of the service had poured out of the building and assembled in the church grounds. The moment John and his family started distributing food, he heard the loud, sharp clang of an explosion close by, followed by an acrid smell and a smouldering fire. When the smoke from the twin suicide attack cleared, 80 people were dead, including 16 from his family.

“The entire church compound was littered with the dead,” says John, a thin and dark man in loose pale yellow clothes. “Our daughters were lying burnt and naked. People from outside came in and covered them with cloth. They helped us rescue the injured, bury the dead and feed the victims’ families through the mourning period.” Reverend Rashid Nazir, the vicar of the All Saints Church, says “the bombing taught us that there are people who kill us but there are also those who will save us.”

As John left his injured wife and children at home and in hospitals at the mercy of neighbours and relatives because “there were all those burials to undertake”, the provincial government announced that the heirs of each person killed in the blast will get 500,000 rupees as compensation. There were also announcements of compensation money from the Sindh government, the federal government and from the real estate tycoon Malik Riaz.

The governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh paid the families of the victims amid protests and claims by some that they had yet to receive any money — prompting the Supreme Court to take a suo moto notice in order to expedite the payment process. Two years on, families and representatives of victims say they have never received any money promised by the federal government or even Malik Riaz. Some claim Sindh’s government, too, paid compensation only to half of the grieving families because the list of the victims the authorities in Sindh had was “incomplete”, says a bitter Nazir. The families of the victims working with the government did not qualify to get the government employee compensation package because those killed “were not on duty that Sunday”.

The erratic nature of compensation always leaves some victims without any official assistance, leading to the often voiced concern that some lives are more, or less, precious than others. It was, however, the APS incident that entrenched that sentiment about inequality in the minds of all other civilians, including religious minorities.

“Especially after the APS attack, we feel deprived. Widows and orphans from our community were never even asked how they were coping when [those injured in the APS attack] were sent to China for treatment,” says Khurram Yaqoub who lost his eye in the church bombing and spent 200,000 rupees of compensation money seeking treatment in Rawalpindi and Lahore. A better treatment was available at Agha Khan Hospital in Karachi but it was expensive and he could not afford it from his own pocket. “If the compensation is announced, it should be fair and uniform, more so because of the feeling among the minority sections that they are being treated like second-rate citizens,” he says.

At the Edwardes High School, Nazir and other members of the Christian community in Peshawar voice a sentiment similar to the one found among the Hazaras in Quetta: “What we need is peace and security. Every day, we live in fear of violence.”


Relatives of the victims of the  All Saints Church blast mourn at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar | Abdul Majeed Goraya, White Star
Relatives of the victims of the All Saints Church blast mourn at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar | Abdul Majeed Goraya, White Star

Victims of conflict and terrorism even from the same community often get treated unequally. For example, Shia victims from Gilgit Baltistan killed in targeted attacks in Sindh have not received any assistance at any time whereas Shias from the same region who were killed in Kohistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in 2012 received double than usual compensation from the provincial government. The family of Aitzaz Hasan, the young boy from Hangu who died saving his school from a suicide bomber, received much more in cash and kind than any other civilian victim because he became a heroic, iconic figure not just for his Shia community but for the country at large.

What gives rise to discrepancies and inadequacies in the compensation regimes is the fact that the federal and provincial governments – save Balochistan – have yet to make laws on compensation payment. The executive orders that notify the payment of compensation are heavily tipped in favour of law enforcement agencies, the army and government servants, creating a hierarchy of martyrs — within each of these three categories too, compensation is paid on the basis of the pay scales of victims. Those from non-officer ranks qualify for much less compensation than those in the officer cadre — and then all this varies from province to province.

Absence of a coherent policy results in other inequities, too. There is no specific time duration for the payment and, more importantly, there is no dedicated funding for this purpose.

When it comes to compensation law or policy, little existed by way of precedent except the Industrial Labour Act dating back to World War II – a pre-partition law made to settle labour disputes – that Pakistan adopted in 1947 and promulgated again in 1965 and 1971. Later, the West Pakistan National Calamities (Prevention and Relief) Act of 1958, with a clause on loss of life and property, provided for a discretionary framework for the compensation of victims, mostly of natural disasters.

In 1996, a blast at Wadood Sons, a department store on Saddar Road in Peshawar, killed some 45 people, including the daughter and a grandchild of the then NWFP Governor Major General (retd) Khurshid Ali Khan. The provincial government, however, found out that it had no precedent – or law – to base the payment of compensation on. Similarly, when Shahid Hamid, a bureaucrat and the managing director of the Karachi Electric Supply Company (now K-Electric), was murdered in 1997, the Sindh government could not find an appropriate legal framework to provide compensation to his family.

Victims of conflict and terrorism even from the same community often get treated unequally.

Then in the late 1990s, a wave of sectarian and target killings compelled the provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab – and later NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Balochistan – to issue administrative notices, based on the West Pakistan National Calamities (Prevention and Relief) Act of 1958, to compensate for the deaths and the injuries resulting from acts of terrorism. Those notices still did not address property damaged in incidents of terrorism. As of now the federal and the provincial governments – except the one in Balochistan – are following the same administrative notices with certain amendments.

“When we first started reviewing the compensation structures, there was none either at the provincial or the federal level,” says Ali, the I-SAPS research fellow and the co-author of Compensating Civilian Victims of Conflict and Terrorism in Pakistan, a 2011 review of policy and practice of compensation in Pakistan. Without those structures, even the government officials sometimes did not know how to proceed. “After a 2009 bombing at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Nargis Sethi [then working at the federal interior ministry] wrote to the provincial governments for guidance on how to compensate the families of the victims,” Ali says.

According to the I-SAPS review, guidelines to compensate the families of law enforcement personnel for death and injury did exist in Balochistan, but a compensation regime for civilian victims of terrorism was introduced only in 2005.

Also read: The Mast Gul factor

In 2009, the provincial government “introduced special administrative measures” to compensate civil servants – professors, doctors etc who were being targeted at the time – and law enforcers targeted by Baloch nationalist insurgents. Since then the compensation regimes for government employees, police officers and civilians have been upwardly revised multiple times in response to both growing violence and the deteriorating value of the rupee.

The provincial government passed the Balochistan Civilian Victims of Terrorism Act in 2014 allowing for a uniform compensation for civilian deaths (one million rupees), injuries (half a million rupees) and damage to property including to vehicles and livestock (half a million rupees for a completely damaged property and 100,000 rupees for partial damage). The compensation amount for civil service staff and law enforcement agencies, however, far outweighs the one for civilians. Within the civil service, those from different basic pay scales are entitled to different amounts (three million rupees are paid for the death of officials in grades 5 – 16; five million rupees for the death of those in grade 17; nine million rupees for the death of those working in grades 18 – 19; and 10 million rupees for the death of those in grades 20 – 22). In addition to this, their families also get cash “in lieu” of a plot of land worth anywhere between one million rupees to five million rupees, depending on the grade of the victim.

A draft law on compensation is pending approval in Khyhber Pakhtunkhwa.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the compensation amount paid until 2009 under the West Pakistan National Calamities (Relief and Rehabilitation) Rules was fixed at 100,000 rupees and 50,000 rupees for each dead and injured civilian respectively. It was revised upwards in 2009 and again in 2013 but is still less than what Balochistan and Punjab are paying.

As per I-SAPS review, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has adopted special measures from 2009 onwards to compensate for the deaths of civil servants and policemen — considering that militant attacks on law enforcement personnel were increasing and there were large-scale desertions from the police especially in Malakand division. The money allocated to those working in grades 5 – 16 was increased from one and a half million rupees in 2009 to three million rupees in 2010 and to 3.3 million rupees in 2014. For other grades, it now stands at five and a half million rupees for officials in grade 17; 9.9 million rupees for those in grades 18 – 19; and 11 million rupees for the ones in grades 20 – 22. In addition to this, the families of the killed law enforcers and civil service officials get between 1.1 million rupees to five and a half million rupees for a plot of land, depending on the hierarchy of basic pay scales.

While “the increase in the compensation package for civil servants and police personnel is praiseworthy, compensation for the civilian victims requires [similar] attention”, says the I-SAPS review. Compensation amount for civilian victims in Punjab and Sindh, too, is substantially lower than the one being given to the families of law enforcers.

A draft law on compensation is pending approval in Khyhber Pakhtunkhwa. It was moved by Israrullah Gandapur as a private member bill. Later, in October 2013, he died in a terrorist bombing in his village in Kulachi Tehsil of Dera Ismail Khan district. Among other things, the draft suggests the setting up of a dedicated compensation fund.

When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the wake of the All Saints Church bombing, he suggested the creation of such a fund, with the federal and the provincial government both contributing 10 million rupees each to it. The fund is managed by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority. Legal experts like Waqar Ahmad, an additional advocate general in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says it needs to be a “revolving” fund, much like the one managed by the federal authorities for the Shuhada Package paid to the families of law enforcers and civil service officials. “Given the extent of casualties and damages, a one-time fund of 20 million rupees is totally insufficient,” he says.

Abdul Wahab who lost his leg in a blast | Aurangzaib Khan
Abdul Wahab who lost his leg in a blast | Aurangzaib Khan

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the civilian compensation mechanism is quite efficient due to delegation of powers to award compensation to district authorities. Punjab shows the same efficiency in providing compensation to the families of policemen, according to the I-SAPS review.

Officials in Lahore say the draft for a law on awarding compensation has been finalised and would be sent to the Punjab chief minister, the provincial cabinet and the provincial assembly for approval soon. “It requires clarity on financial issues so we have forwarded it to the finance department,” says Dr Syed Abul Hassan Najmi, secretary of the Law and Parliamentary Affairs Department in Lahore.

An official in Punjab’s home department tells the Herald that Punjab studied Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s draft law as well as the compensation law of Balochistan to develop its own. “This has helped us prepare the best ever draft for our law,” says the official.

In Sindh, Humaira Almani, a member of Sindh Assembly from the ruling PPP, has moved a private member bill on compensation payment. With the bill still pending approval, the provincial government follows a compensation policy which “is hard to navigate, especially when political parties also claim to be victims of terrorism [perpetrated by the state as well as non-state actors],” says a source in the Sindh government.

Also read: Triangle of terrorism

Sindh, however, has a dedicated head of account – with an annual allocation of 300 million rupees – for the payment of compensation. In view of frequent conflicts over succession or heirship, Sindh’s chief minister has made it mandatory for the compensation documents to be verified by a mukhtiarkar — the revenue officer posted at taluka level.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir has two specific laws that “deal with the provision of relief and compensation to civilians suffering physical and financial loss as a result of accidents, calamities, epidemics and incidents along the ceasefire line,” according to the I-SAPS study. In Gilgit Baltistan, a draft law designed by I-SAPS was shared with the previous cabinet of the region but has been in limbo since then.

In the absence of a uniform national policy, chances that the authorities themselves would violate official procedures, leading to delays, underhand deals and disproportionate allocations will always remain. Officials and policy experts agree there should be a uniform policy across Pakistan but they also say the chances of all stakeholders in all the provinces reaching a consensus are slim. The way things are, says an official in Punjab, authorities are more inclined towards formulating compensation policies at a provincial level because “it is an easy task that doesn’t involve an extensive [consultative] exercise.”


On a Sunday, there is little traffic on the road that meanders through the verdant farmlands of Takhtbai in Mardan district. Farmers with plastic bags full of farm produce – cucumbers, melons, lychee and okra – sit under trees, waiting for customers who stop by for better deals on this rural road.

Abdul Wahab, holding crutches, is not hard to recognise as he lumbers out of the shadows of a thatched-roof restaurant along the road. His dark ruddy complexion betrays a vocation that once kept him by the fireside — slipping flat patties of chapli kebabs into a pan simmering with animal fat. These days someone else does the frying at his New Wahab Hotel — once a roadside kebab stall with a fire pit but now offering everything from lentils to vegetables. Wahab now manages the restaurant, employing 13 local hands including his brothers.

On June 18, 2013, he went to Shergarh near Mardan to attend the funeral of a friend. He stood for funeral prayers next to Imran Mohmand, an independent member of the provincial assembly, and woke up five days later in a hospital. The suicide bombing at the funeral that killed 70 people including Mohmand had left Wahab with a disfigured arm and only one leg.

The eldest of five brothers, Wahab was the main earning hand for his family. For him and others who could not access monetary compensation provided by the provincial government, because they did not have bank accounts, help came when they were visited in the hospital by an assessment team from the Civilian Victims Support Project (CVSP) run by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The project was modelled after similar USAID projects in Afghanistan and Iraq and assisted the “non-military, non-police, non-combatant, non-civil service population” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) during three years of its operation between 2012 and 2015, helping some 12,000 civilians affected by incidents of terrorism that took place between 2007 and 2015. The project, amounting to some 25 million US dollars, provided a host of services such as emergency medical assistance, business start-up support and scholarships for the children of the victims.

The project involved community leaders, the police, hospital staff and the district government in eligibility verification and needs assessment for compensation — and started with the immediate provision of food support to the families of the victims, who were often poor. “The first thing we did was to provide food enough to last for three to four months because they had lost breadwinners,” says Akif Khan, who has worked with the project.

The project seems to have restored the faith of people like Wahab in assistance that can be helpful. He and other victims received rations worth 45,000 rupees each; his three children received scholarships that paid for their education for five years. But it was the help he received in the ninth month of his recovery – when the project gave him restaurant equipment worth 400,000 rupees – that changed his life. The equipment included kitchen tables, chairs, deep freezers and cutlery. “I got assistance at a time when I needed it most. People in my position commit suicide. Having a business has earned me respect at home and in the community,” says Wahab, who is still receiving treatment for his injuries.

While they may exist, instances of government compensation transforming civilian lives are hard to trace. Part of the reason is that the bureaucracy that deals with provision of compensation is not trained or keen on documentation and follow-ups. Nor is it keen on building the image of the provincial or the federal government it represents.

For those working for institutions such as the army and the police, compensation is sustained and long-term. Compensation to terror victims in the army is determined and announced by the Shuhada Cell (Martyrs Cell) that works under the Pakistan Army Welfare and Rehabilitation Directorate. According to a Lahore-based army official, compensation for the families of the martyred soldiers is “attractive”, comprising various long-term benefits. “The cash compensation varies according to ranks and grades,” says the official, requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media. “It normally starts from five million rupees for the family of a martyred jawan and increases gradually with change in rank or grade.”

Besides cash compensation, the family of a martyred soldier is entitled to a residential plot in a developed housing society — such as the Defence Housing Authority (DHA). The widow of an army man killed in an incident of terrorism receives complete salary of her deceased husband for life and the children of dead soldiers get education in army education institutions for free, along with free healthcare.

The compensation package for soldiers injured in terror attacks is also “handsome”, says the official. “Under this, the injured soldiers not only receive the best medical treatment in army hospitals, they also get cash compensation.”

For civilians, however, compensation is only a one-time consolation. Their financial circumstances – often greatly reduced by the loss of an income earner – are not improved by the payment of compensation either. Most civilians injured in terrorist attacks are not left with much due to expensive medical treatments.

For many, compensation is as much a bane as it is a blessing.


Marzia and Shazia have little in common except that they both live in the same city and have lost their dear ones to terrorism. For Shazia, it was her husband. For Marzia, two sons. Both of them have recently moved out of the houses where they were living.

The Chowlo Bouri neighbourhood on the outskirts of Quetta is a heap of broken concrete, rutted roads and layers of fine dust settled over the land. There is nary a green bush in sight, and only discarded plastic growing out of the earth. Markets and houses are hastily built blocks of brick, with little attention paid to aesthetics or architecture. People here are mainly poor Afghans, sitting outside their shacks, leaning against walls in the sun, lazily picking their teeth with toothpicks for want of something better to do.

The neighbourhood seems to have sprouted in the way wild things grow and is just as disorderly. It is the sort of place where people survive by sheer will — like a thorn tree in a desert, with no apparent source for sustenance.

Shazia Imran lives here with her married sister. Next door to their tiny, cramped house in a quiet street lives her father, another reason why she chose to come here after she left the home of her in-laws at Sabzal Road in Quetta. Her husband Imran Shiekh was a cameraman for Samaa TV. He, and a Samaa TV reporter Saifurrehman, were killed in a suicide blast while covering the bombing of a snooker club on Alamdar Road in 2013.

Illustration by Aan Abbas
Illustration by Aan Abbas

“I was watching the news that night after the first bombing,” says Shazia, her hazel eyes large and sad in her oval face. “Then there was a news alert saying that Samaa TV’s cameraman was missing. After a while they flashed his picture saying Imran was dead.”

A month later, on February 16, 2013, another bomb blast hit Quetta. This time it was Marzia searching for her sons Zulfiqar and Shujaat amid the carnage wreaked by the water tanker bomb in Hazara Town. They had gone for their English language class and had not returned. Sometime later that day, a local imambargah called her and told her that the body of one of her sons had been found.

“He had turned to coal. They recognised him from a childhood injury that had left a dent in his ankle bone,” says Marzia, sorrow in her face haloed by a printed red chador. She never found the body of her other son.

Marzia received compensation for losing Shujaat but the loss of her elder son, Zulfiqar, went uncompensated because his body was nowhere to be found. Many were never found after the blast that is said to have killed as a many as 200 people, though the official death toll is put at less than 100. “They only found a large number of body parts. That day, a woman in the neighbourhood went around knocking at doors, asking people to look for her son’s head on their rooftops so she could bury him,” says Marzia.

When someone loses his life to terrorism, his family thinks the compensation money belongs to all of them.

When she applied for compensation for Zulfiqar, she was told she would have to go to court to prove that he had died in the blast. Having already lost her husband, a labourer, in a target killing during 2008, she had little understanding of how the system works. And then there were concerns about security, linked to multiple levels of her vulnerability: an uneducated person, a woman, a Hazara, a widow. So she decided to let Zulfiqar’s case go. Even in Shujaat’s case, she got compensation after a year and a half because, unbeknown to her, her identity card had expired.

When she finally got the compensation money, she put away 400,000 rupees in a bank; the rest she invested in moving to a bigger house. She also receives 5,000 rupees every month from the Shuhada Foundation, a social support organisation that takes care of Shia victims of terrorism all over Pakistan.

The loss that Marzia and Shazia suffered propelled their lives into different dimensions.

Samaa TV gave Shazia three million rupees and it continues to support the education of her two daughters. She also has a son born seven months after Imran’s death. In addition to what she got from Samaa TV, the government paid her one million rupees. She gave 500,000 rupees to her parents-in-law, who had always been kind to her. The rest she put in a bank which pays her 30,000 a month in profit. Her husband’s monthly pay was 32,000 rupees.

When her husband died, she had thought her brother-in-law would take care of her. But although he loved her children, says Shazia, he did not want her around anymore. He and his wife turned abusive toward her. To avoid being nagged all the time, Shazia moved to her sister’s place. “My daughter cannot live with that man anymore,” says Nizamuddin, Shazia’s father.

Compensation leading to such rifts within the families of victims is quite common. When someone loses his life to terrorism, his family thinks the compensation money belongs to all of them. But the law only provides for legal heirs. “A widow once came to us saying her in-laws had frozen the bank account with 400,000 rupees of compensation money in it,” says Cheema, the Quetta-based senior police officer. “When a woman loses a spouse, she gets compensation but she also loses the support of her in-laws and is forced into social isolation.”

Akbar Durrani, the home department secretary in Quetta, explains why. “Women are often uneducated, gullible or ignorant. They are forced to name their fathers-in-law as guardian,” he says. “Often, they are blackmailed or harassed by other members of the family to give up claims to succession.”

DIG Cheema was serving in Lahore in 2011 when Raymond Davis, an American intelligence contractor, killed two men who, according to media reports, had stopped him on the road to rob him. Other reports say the men were security – read intelligence – personnel following Davis. Whatever the identity of the dead men, the American government eventually paid 24 million US dollars as “blood money” to their legal heirs. When the compensation money finally reached the families, the widow of one of the victims and her mother were killed by her father because the widow wanted to marry someone other than her dead husband’s brother. The murder was prompted by her father’s desire to keep the compensation money within the family, says Cheema.


Rescue operation underway at the Qissa Khawani bazaar following a blast in September 2013 | Shahbaz Butt, White Star
Rescue operation underway at the Qissa Khawani bazaar following a blast in September 2013 | Shahbaz Butt, White Star

Shazia also received money from an insurance company that provides group insurance to the members of Quetta Press Club. The officials of the club have a straightforward rationale for the insurance scheme: While journalists receive government compensation as civilians when they die in acts of terrorism, many of them, instead, lose lives in targeted shootings which the government refuses to treat as terror attacks. “The state says they had enmities, supported insurgents or were not journalists at all,” says Saleem Shahid, the Quetta-based Bureau Chief for daily Dawn. About 43 journalists have been killed in Balochistan over the last decade but the government acknowledges only 20 deaths as terror related, he says and adds: “We, however, want them all to be compensated.” That is where the press club facilitated life insurance scheme comes in handy.

The press club’s compensation scheme is also premised on the argument that Balochistan is a warzone and ordinary compensation policies do not apply to journalists working here. “There is a difference between journalists here and those working elsewhere,” says Shahzada Zulfiqar, a Quetta-based veteran reporter. “We are surrounded by terrorists, hostile courts and state authorities.”

While many assassinated journalists in Pakistan are not recognised as terrorism victims, others receive support from unlikely sources. Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif doled out a hefty amount of money from the public exchequer for Wali Khan Babar, a television reporter killed in Karachi in 2011. Babar did not even belong to Punjab.


Malik Din has bled a lot. First from injuries and then from surgeries.

He regained consciousness slowly – on the fourth day of the blast that had knocked him out – and found himself in Miranshah District Hospital. With consciousness came recollection: mutilated bodies after the explosion enveloped in the dust and smoke that covered everything.

Din was lucky to have survived an American drone strike that killed a hundred people on June 24, 2009, including five children and 35 tribesmen (others are said to be militants from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan). Din was in Chenakai village in Ladha sub-division of South Waziristan tribal agency to offer his condolences for the death of a local tribesman, Khwaz Wali, when the drone hit. It shattered his arm, his leg and one half of his hip. He also sustained injuries on his chin and head.

“After initial treatment, I was referred to Bannu District Hospital where I went through eight different surgeries,” says Din. It took him three years to recover.

Since 2004, there have been 442 drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas, killing between 2,494 and 3,994 people, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism that collects and collates data on drone strikes. Of those killed in drone strikes, between 423 and 965 are civilians, with 172 to 207 children among them. While the last documented drone strike in Pakistan was in January 2016, not a single civilian drone victim has been paid any compensation so far.

Until 2015, the US recognised civilian deaths from drone attacks only as “collateral damage.” The deaths of Warren Weinstein, an American, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian – held hostage by al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas – in a drone attack in January 2015 changed that. Following intense international pressure, US President Barack Obama apologised for the deaths, saying his administration “took full responsibility” for the tragedy. The families of the two were also compensated although the amount paid was not made public.

In a report, Do We Not Bleed?: International Failure to Redress Pakistani Victims of US Drone Strikes, launched in December 2015, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), an Islamabad-based legal rights group, and Reprieve, a British human rights organisation, demanded justice and compensation for the victims of drone strikes. Shahzad Akbar of the FFR told the media at the launch of the report: “Not a penny of the US government’s Pakistani Civilian Assistance Fund, that totalled around 40 million US dollars, has reached any of the drone strikes victims.”

There have long been international demands that the American government pay compensation to the heirs of those victims of drone strikes who are not militants. A report, titled Will I be next?, published by the international human rights group, Amnesty International, says the US government should ensure that victims of unlawful drone strikes have access to “restitution, compensation and rehabilitation.” A Human Rights Watch report, Between a Drone and al-Qaeda, calls on the American government to “implement a system of prompt and meaningful compensation for civilian loss of life, injury, and property damage from unlawful attacks”.

The compensation made to the families of the European and American victims of drone strikes has also led to questions about “racism”. A European or American life is worth a million dollars, says Akbar, but a Pakistani life is worth nothing. Even in Afghanistan, the Americans ended up paying 320 US dollars for a cow mistakenly killed in a drone strike.

Hazara mourners shout slogans as they gather next to the coffins carrying the remains of those killed in a blast in Quetta in 2013 | AFP
Hazara mourners shout slogans as they gather next to the coffins carrying the remains of those killed in a blast in Quetta in 2013 | AFP

Not that the Pakistani state recognises the predicament of drone victims either — or compensates them. For a long time now, Pakistani authorities have only paid lip service to civilian deaths by condemning drone attacks while secretly acquiescing to them. Duplicity in Pakistan’s policy becomes apparent in that Islamabad does not deem the civilian victims of drone strikes in Fata as eligible for compensation.

On the other hand, the government actively supports the civilian victims of its own military operations against terrorists in Fata. While verifying cases for compensation, the army is consulted to find out if a person or property is hit by “friendly fire”, says a section officer at Peshawar-based Fata Secretariat that deals with compensation cases in the tribal areas. “The army also confirms if the legal heir of a victim is a terrorist or not.”

The initial request for compensation comes from the office of the political agent in a tribal agency and the Fata secretariat provides funds for payment which is made through a cheque. Here, too, the price of life is not uniform. While the family of each civilian killed gets only 300,000 rupees – less than anywhere else in Pakistan – a security official’s family gets three million rupees if he is killed in a friendly fire or a terrorist attack.


From Fata to Karachi and from Gilgit Baltistan to Balochistan, in unknown streets and neighbourhoods, there are broken, interrupted lives, lived desperately among the debris of bonds severed by violent death. And there are martyrs aplenty.

In a society where everyone aspires to the title of a martyr, in name if not in deed, and where the dead are often treated as martyrs – whether civilian victims of terrorism or members of the security forces for whom death in the line of duty is part of their professional brief – who really is a martyr?

“When you join the military and the police, you do so with an understanding that death is part of the deal,” says the father of a student who was injured in the APS attack. “For civilians, we cannot say they are martyrs. They are victims.” For a soldier or a policeman who dies for the country, the title rings true because they die for a cause, he says. For a civilian victim for terrorism, then, what is the cause?

Martyrdom is something that people accept when they are willing to die for a cause. In that sense, calling [civilian victims of terrorism] martyrs is a joke, says Faizullah Jan, the author of a 2015 book, Muslim Extremist Discourse. The state uses a title to hide itself from the fact that they were murdered because of its negligence, he says. The rest of the guilt is washed off with compensation payment. “The culture of compensation absolves the state of responsibility [to provide protection to citizens] and it also justifies a culture of martyrdom,” says Jan. “When the government compensates people for their losses, it hides flaws in the system — saying ‘saving you is not, or is beyond, my capacity or responsibility.’”

Institutional justification apart, in a country where ‘martyrdom’ is commonplace happenstance, few care for or actually have a deeper understanding of the ‘cause’ that took away their breadwinner. “As a nation, we trade in misery,” says Dr Altaf Khan, a professor at the journalism school in Peshawar University. “We use compensation and titles to exalt innocent people whose lives have been brutally cut short by acts of terrorism in order to evade our responsibility to go after terrorists and bring them to justice.” When the state compensates victims, attributing whatever noble intentions to compensation, says Altaf Khan, “it chooses charity over responsibility.”

Compensation can bring momentary consolation but how does it pay for the social, economic and psychological effects of the loss of a loved one, especially if it is something occurring routinely on a massive scale, as it is doing in Pakistan? “It is not normal – not healthy – if people are dying every day,” says Altaf Khan. To fix things, he says, “we will have to address the causes of the conflict.”


Additional reporting by Saher Baloch in Karachi and Khalid Hasnain in Lahore.

Opening illustration by Sabir Nazar.

This story originally appeared in the Herald's February 2016 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.