Malik Jalal is convinced that America is trying to kill him.
He’s a Pakistani tribal elder from Waziristan, a dangerous one-time Taliban stronghold on the border with Afghanistan.
The region has borne the brunt of the United States’ drone campaign in Pakistan.
And six years ago, Jalal began to suspect that he was on the Americans’ alleged “kill list.”
“Since 2010, I realized that there had been four attacks that had occurred very close to me,” he told CNN.
One strike hit so close that it broke the windows of his car.
“In another attack, my car was completely destroyed. So I became aware that I was under the drone attacks and America will kill me,” he said. “I have seen dead bodies, bodies of young children, bodies that were in small pieces and since that time all this had had a very bad impact on my life.”
Fled in fear
The United States almost never officially confirms that it has struck targets in Pakistan using drones, and the names on its alleged kill list are secret.
Jalal says his fear was confirmed by security sources with the CIA in Afghanistan, although he concedes that he has not seen the list of targets himself.
He says that friends and family have been killed in strikes that he believes were targeting him.
At one point, he became so fearful that he resorted to sleeping outside, away from his children, in case of another strike.
But it was the effect on his family that finally forced him to flee Waziristan and move to the city of Peshawar.
“Next to our house outside there are big trees and I went under the trees after seeing five drones in the sky and when I looked back I saw my younger son Halal,” Jalal recalled.
He told his son to go home, asking why he was there with his father at night.
“He told me, ‘Baba, I have seen with my own eyes that they have targeted young children, hence the reason I have come with you,” the father said.
Intermediary with the Taliban
Jalal is a member of the North Waziristan peace committee, a body that acts as interlocutors between the Taliban and the Pakistani government.
He spoke to CNN from a London hotel room on a short visit from Pakistan after being granted a temporary visa by the British government. Invited to the UK by a prominent human rights charity and a top British lawyer, Jalal is lobbying the British and American governments to clear his name.
CNN has reached out to the CIA, which runs drone operations in Pakistan, to ask about Jalal’s case.
The CIA said it does not comment on such matters. The British Foreign Office said the same.
It seems unlikely that Jalal is on a list of targeted terrorists if he was able to get a visa to the UK.
Whether or not Jalal is on the kill list, his visit to the UK served to highlight the impact that drones have had on his community.
“Children stopped going to school, the women have become mental health patients, in my own house my four children, my daughter has mental problems, because of drones,” he said.
And the strikes are not fulfilling their aim, he argued.
“These drone attacks do not finish terrorists. When in one house two or three children and their mother or father are targeted by drone attacks, the whole household become terrorists against America,” he argued.
When Barack Obama took office in 2009, drone strikes in Pakistan increased exponentially. According to the New America Foundation in Washington D.C., between 2004 and 2009, under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, there were 48 drone strikes in Pakistan.
Obama authorized 52 in 2009 alone, and another 122 the next year.
In recent years, the number of drone strikes has decreased again, with only two registered to date in 2016.
Jalal believes that there can be no path to peace in the region until the drone strikes stop completely and negotiations begin. And then, he hopes can he finally return home.
“How would feel if you are forced to live at another place because you are helpless?” he demanded. “Even in my dreams I see my house and my Waziristan remains around my eyes… I love my family and the people of the village, and this love is always there, 24 hours a day, in my heart.”