Asif Iqbal was a 35-year-old English teacher from Pakistan’s tribal regions. He was killed by a drone strike that hit the home of his brother, Kareem Khan, in Machi Khel village on December 31 2009 in Machi Khel. His nephew, Zahinullah Khan, and stonemason Khaliq Dad were also killed in the attack.
The attack was the first strike after a suicide bombing at a CIA base over the border in Afghanistan killed seven US agents in one of the deadliest attacks in the Agency’s history. The strike on Khan’s house was the following day; in the month that followed a further 12 attacks took place.
Reports suggested that Haji Omar Khan, described as the Taliban commander of North Waziristan, was among up to seven people killed in the strike, but Kareem Khan insists that only Zahinullah, Iqbal and Khaliq Dad were killed.
Kareem Khan spoke to the Bureau about his brother during a trip to Europe in February 2014. ‘He had a lovely personality… loving and caring, and [he] loved meeting new people.’
Khan added: ‘He was an educated person.’
Asif Iqbal completed a masters degree in English literature at the National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad, he told the Bureau. In 2001 he started work as a teacher at a secondary school for girls in Datta Khel, activist Medea Benjamin wrote in her book Drone Warfare. Khan told a press conference in 2011 that he was the only English teacher in the area.
Asif was sometimes teased by others about his height, Khan told the Bureau. ‘He was very fond of football and debates. He was short in height… so the [students] were taller than him. So everyone in college would make fun of him and not let him do speeches – when he was very keen on making speeches.’
According to his brother, Asif changed his surname from Khan to Iqbal after Pakistan’s national poet.
‘He basically had each and every book of Iqbal’s – he had loads of books,’ Kareem Khan told the Bureau. ‘He wrote poems and prose as well. But one thing in particular which I remember of Asif: any place he would get, he would just write a poem from Iqbal. Various – not just one. If you pick up any old copy of a book of his [they would have poems written out]. You would find his couplets on the wall – even at his school’.
Asif married in 2006, and a year later had a son named Mohammad Kafeel, Benjamin wrote. His son was aged under a year old when Asif died, Khan told the Bureau.
In the evening of December 31 2009, a CIA drone launched a Hellfire missile at Kareem Khan’s home in Machi Khel. Kareem Khan later said six missiles were fired at the house. He was in Islamabad at the time but rushed back to his village. When he arrived at the scene, he saw two coffins for his son and brother, he said their bodies were ‘covered with wounds’. He later found fingers from the bodies in the rubble.
Khan said: ‘When my house was attacked, it flashed on the news that militants have been killed.’ He claimed that there were no ‘militants’ in his home at the time of the strike or beforehand. ‘My house wasn’t a training centre, either. Only innocent people were killed,’ he added.
In keeping with Pashtun culture, Iqbal’s widow and son continue to live with the extended family. ‘It’s a joint family system, so all the brothers and wives and children live together. So the wife is still living with [us], and the child,’ Khan told the Bureau. ‘Everyone is taking care of that child, because the responsibility passes on to them.’
Taliban commander Haji Omar Khan was said to be the target of the strike and he was initially reportedly killed. However, Kareem Khan said Haji Omar Khan had been reported dead several times before and since. He also alleges that villagers were paid for information on Haji Omar Khan and had given the authorities false information.
Sources and Citations
Kareem Khan’s witness testimony (Reprieve, Reprieve); Karim Khan interview (Foreign Affairs)