[News] Pakistan’s Moment of Truth: a report on the anti-Drone March

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 16 11:04:29 EDT 2012


    Pakistan’s Moment of Truth: A CagePrisoners report on the anti-Drone
    March

Written by Lauren Booth 
<http://www.cageprisoners.com/our-work/opinion-editorial/itemlist/user/4915-laurenbooth> 
Monday, 15 October 2012
http://www.cageprisoners.com/our-work/opinion-editorial/item/5150-cage-prisoners-report-pakistan

“What about the security of those taking part in the anti drones 
protest” was the only question asked by journalists at the press 
conference held by Imran Khan, in Islamabad, on the subject.  It was 
tiresome to witness the agenda of Pakistan’s rulers on such public 
display. Namely, to derail the growing mass movement in Pakistan 
opposing US drone attacks on its regional villages. To prevent the 
momentum of this movement, the spectre of foreigners being harmed was 
hyped up across the local media.

As political leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI), Imran Khan 
called for people of all age, gender and class to head to Waziristan and 
witness the real terror there; the terror being visited on one of the 
world’s poorest regions by the world’s richest, most heavily armed, 
superpower.


As the weekend of the historic convoy approached; Clive Stafford Smith 
of Reprieve and members of US group Code Pink, all taking part, called 
for the rights of Waziri civilians be recognised, supported and protected.


South Waziristan is one of seven Pakistani Federally Administered Tribal 
Areas and Frontier Regions (FATA). Sixty percent of the population lives 
below the national poverty line, the region is inhabited almost entirely 
by Pashtuns. The governance is under the direct authority of the 
Pakistani President, who has the sole power to regulate ‘for the peace 
and good governance’ of FATA.


That ‘good governance’ includes refusing to condemn (or indeed 
supporting) Barak Obama’s drones policy in the region. Since Obama 
became President, drone attacks have surged in the FATA region; from an 
average of one strike every 40 days before 2007, up to one every four 
days by mid-2011.


Stanford University and New York University released their major study 
recently. This shocked the world, revealing that a mere 2 per cent of 
those murdered and maimed by unmanned American drones, were (accused) 
‘terrorists.’ So much for the narrative that drones attacks in Pakistan 
(and Gaza and Yeman and elsewhere) are surgical, precise and thus, 
effective against ‘extremism’. Instead, their imprecision and their 
increasingly casual use, not only fail to contain resistance to American 
hegemony in the region, they fuel anti-US sentiments in Pakistan and 
destabilize the lives and safety of tens of millions of people. People 
who may be, as a result, genuinely at risk of militant attack.

Overwhelming the majority of those killed, injured, and handicapped by 
drones are innocent civilians going about their daily lives. Independent 
research puts the number of drone-related deaths over 3,000, including 
175 children. During my time in Pakistan, an awareness of the massive 
impact of drone strikes became clearer. What is too little mentioned in 
the international media is the displacement of people from South 
Waziristan. Estimates now put the number of IDP’s (Internally Displaced 
Persons) at almost fifty per cent of the entire population. That is 
300,000 people, unable to live in their homes as a direct result of 
America’s policy of launching random attacks on civilian villages and 
gatherings.


I remember being in Gaza earlier this year, hearing the drones overhead, 
trembling inside at the creepiness of being spied upon, judged for 
injury or death from afar. Israeli and US militarists have boasted in 
the past that drone attacks are so precise that ‘the colour of a woman’s 
hijab’ can be detected (the point here is not the colour - images are 
black and white - but the boast). This is the lie which keeps the US 
public supporting drone policy. This imaginary scenario where scary 
bearded terrorists are obliterated by ‘surgical’ attacks that somehow do 
no damage to ‘innocent’ people living, eating or sleeping, alongside them.

So what is like living under these wonderfully controlled killing 
machines? As in Gaza, the people of North and South Waziristan live with 
their skies constantly abuzz with flying metal destruction. Clive 
Stafford Smith reports that his mother remembered the buzz of ‘drones’ 
aka ‘doodblebugs’ used by the Nazis in WWII over London. ‘So long as 
they made a sound you were alive’ she remembered seventy years later, 
with a shudder. Today again, weapons of Fascism buzz in the skies over 
towns and villages. Breaking up the very fabric of community life. Women 
in Waziristan are afraid to shop at the markets, their children are kept 
home from school, funerals of those already killed, avoided (these have 
been targeted as ‘militant gatherings). And here in Europe our media 
gets all excited about the sexy sounding ‘double tap’ strikes. How we 
love the rhetoric of war these days. But ‘double taps’ should not be 
thrilled over. For what it refers to is America’s use of secondary 
strikes on the same target - at the time when medics come to rescue the 
injured and family members are giving comfort to the dying. As a result, 
a leading humanitarian agency now delays assistance to victims of drone 
attacks by an astonishing six hours.

Saturday 6th of October, hundreds of vehicles set off from Islamabad 
towards the Pakistan border region with Afghanistan.  I had my own media 
shaped preconceptions about the people I would see there; specifically 
the men.  I expected not to leave the car for ‘security reasons’ and 
that my white face (despite the hijab) would be met with suspicious 
glares from those modern bogeymen aka ‘tribal elders’. Hundreds of cars, 
buses and scooters, packed with people to suspension-bearing limits, 
travelled 400 sweaty, slow kilometres before stopping overnight in the 
city of Dera Ismail Khan. The plan for the second and final day was to 
travel another 120 kilometers to Kotkai in South Waziristan.


The next morning, thousands of every day Pakistanis from cities as far 
apart as Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, set off towards the border 
provinces. The Pakistan military had been told to block the roads at 
certain points causing long delays. Undeterred, men simply joined 
together and removed the massive containers, and on we drove.

And then it began.

The greeting by the impoverished in the provinces - to the convoy 
members. The love and affection exchanged between Pakistan’s city 
dwellers and their rural people, a truly rare and special event.

Imran Khan is a visionary - whether you like or agree with that vision 
is neither here or there - this is what he is.

‘We are making history’ he told supporters. And I believe that last 
weekend, this is what happened. The reunifying of Pakistan’s people; an 
ethical revival, begun. The Government could only watch on. For the 
military men posted all along the rooftops of the mud buildings as we 
chugged onwards did not glare at the convoy.

They waved, giving ‘V - for victory signs.

‘We are with you’ shouted an older man in uniform.

‘Stop America attacking the people’ a younger soldier, smiling at me and 
waved.

At the village of Tank, I left the car, spurred on by the constant line 
of smiles and friendly cheers along the dusty, humble, streets. Here 
were the old men in long beards and turbans of TV footage, but nowhere 
were there scowls or threats or mutterings of ‘haram’ for women taking 
part in the protest. Islam was in the air in a way I have felt before 
only in the Gaza Strip. Truly Allah SWT is with the poor and the oppressed.

Sometime later, the military stopped the convoy in the town of Kawar. 
Their constant road blocks had made us too late to reach Waziristan and 
to return before nightfall.
But this was not a victory for the Pakistan government.
It was a victory for the people of Pakistan.

An impromptu rally of some ten thousand was assembled in a field in 
“Jahazi Ground” in Tank, a town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, near the border. 
Imran Khan, advised the Zardari government to abandon the double 
standards concerning drones - saying one thing to America another to 
Pakistan’s people. The crowd cheered and called for America to leave 
them alone; huge chants of ‘Go America Go!’ rang out.

Khan said the convoy had sent the message to the world that drone 
attacks were unacceptable. He raised cheers with his certain words; 
"America is not God, Allah is God,"

Back in Karachi, the following day, the Pakistan government tries to 
seize the political moment. Interior Minister Rehman Malik claims that 
U.S. officials have given him an assurance to review the policy of using 
drones in tribal areas of Pakistan, following opposition (not from 
protestors of course) but from the country's government.
Whatever.

The list of countries facing remote attacks will only grow. The US and 
UK governments are working on doubling the number of armed drones in 
their arsenals. Plus there’s the wonderful bonus that drone attacks kill 
civilians whilst protecting the security of military personnel who can 
be thousands of miles away.

Meanwhile, a few miles beyond the government’s machinations, hundreds of 
thousands of people continue to wonder what it is they can actually do 
to make themselves safe. You see no one has told the rural people, WHY 
they are actually being targeted. After all what can you say to a three 
year old child, or a wedding party of hundreds, or the sick and elderly 
injured and murdered by unmanned machines from a country they know 
little about? That they are terrorists by dint of their place of birth, 
their religion, their facial hair? No one knows who is on the American 
kill list. And on one knows what they can do to get themselves off.

Suddenly, and without warning, a missile launches. Women, men, babies, 
homes, everyone and everything is annihilated within a 15 metre radius.
Random and indiscriminate murder is the definition of terrorism.
Drone attacks are terrifyingly random.

/Lauren Booth is a Patron of CagePrisoners.  Lauren is a broadcaster and 
journalist, outspoken on issues as diverse as childhood vaccinations and 
the war in Iraq. She has presented shows for television and radio and 
regularly guests on programmes across the media. She has regular columns 
in the Mail on Sunday and writes features for the Sunday Times and Femail./
-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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