ISLAMABAD - Fears of attacks by US drones are scaring away many Pakistani Muslims in the restive tribal belt from performing the Tarawih (nightly prayers) during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
This is unfortunate, but true, that many, including myself are not offering Tarawih this year because of fear of drone attacks, Rahat Dawar, a resident of Dattakhel, a small town in North Waziristan, told OnIslam.net.
Dattakhel has been one of the prime targets of US drone attacks, killing hundreds of tribesmen, including women and children during last five years.
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Drones usually target gatherings considering them Taliban meetings, said Dawar.
But, they do not achieve their targets all the time, he added, referring to the killings of hundreds of civilians, including women and in children in drone attacks since 2004.
The US has been launching drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal belt near borders with Afghanistan to track down militants from Al-Qaeda and Taliban.
Over 300 people have been killed in 29 drone attacks in North and South Waziristan in the first seven month of this year.
According to New American Foundation, and Human Rights Watch, nearly 50 percent of the drone targets were innocents.
Pakistan publicly condemns the drone attacks, terming them counterproductive vis-Ã -vis the so-called war on terror.
However, analysts believe that there is a tacit agreement between Islamabad and Washington whereby Pakistan publicly denounce the attacks in order to stem the growing public anger but will not take any action against them.
Although Washington carried out only two drone attacks during the first ten days of Ramadan, locals often see the unmanned predators hovering in the area, causing panic among them.
Whether it is day or night, you see drones flying in the area almost two to four times a day, Rahat said.
I did go to offer the first Tarawih, but the annoying sounds of drones flying over our heads kept me disturbed.
Every time I bowed I felt the drone was going to fire the missile, and I would not be able to get to my feet again, a virtually disturbed Rahat said.
Gul Wazir Dawar, a resident of Ghulam Khan town, which borders northeastern Khost province, also stops performing prayers outdoors over fears of drone attacks.
I feel ashamed that I am not going to offer prayers just because of death fear, Gul, owner of a utility shop, told OnIslam.net.
Drones cannot figure out whether it's a militants' meeting or a religious congregation. They just fire the missiles, he said, referring to various misguided attacks.
A year and a half ago, a US drone attacked a tribal assembly (Jirga) near Miramshah, the capital of North Waziristan, which was held to resolve a local dispute, killing two dozens of tribesmen and security personnel.
And this is not the end, Gul said.
Those who retrieve the charred bodies of the victims, drones fire on them too.
Gul observes that people in densely-populated areas of Waziristan still go to mosques to offer prayers and Tarawih because drones do not hit the populated areas.
But people from areas like ours are in real trouble, he said.
It seems if the sounds of flying drones has settled in my mind, he said, referring to the areas bordering neighboring Afghanistan, which are considered the strongholds of powerful Haqqani network, which the US blames it for attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan.
We prefer to offer prayers and Tarawish at home, a disappointed Gul said.
However, there are many tribesmen who are undaunted.
We are not safe anywhere (in North Waziristan), Hameed, a farmer from Dattakhel town, told OnIslam.net.
Death can catch us anytime anywhere, so why should we miss prayers and Tarawih in mosque?
He sees prayers and Tarawih as a treatment of different psychological disorders facing Waziris due to drone attacks and fierce fights between Taliban and security forces.
We should be positive. Allah has given us another Ramadan. No one knows he or she would be alive next year, he said.
Therefore, we must not miss this opportunity just because of drone fears.
Hameed says that missing prayers and Tarawih in mosques just because of fear will invite the wrath of Allah.It is, rather, high time to get close to Allah, and seek his blessings, a humble Hameed said.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net