Judy Bello, reports from the 2012 Pakistan delegation
We had an open discussion at the Institute of Policy Studies, a conservative Think Tank formed in 1979. Our discussion was chaired by Khalid Rahman, Director General of the Institute. Ann Wright and Dr. Akram Zaki, a retired Diplomat and Senator led the discussion. About 10 Peace Activists were received by about 30 members of IPS for a round table discussion. The IPS group included 5 or 6 women and a small boy, a Pakhtun orphan from North Waziristan, who sang for us the first few suras, or verses, of the Book of Miriam in the Qur’an in a sweet boyish soprano. d After Ann and Dr. Zaki had each spoken briefly, a free ranging discussion ensued, driven by questions and comments by the members of the Think Tank, periodically enhanced by a response from one of the Peace Delegation.
I am unfailingly surprised by the openness of the people we talk to here in Islamabad. A woman complained yesterday at a different Think Tank, that the Westerners who are concerned about the Drones and opposing war are from the far left, while the Easterners with the same interest are from the deep right. I’m not sure it is something to complain about. We share a deep interest in morality as it is reflected in a concern for the welfare of ordinary people. It isn’t populism in the sense of attracting interest or support from these people, but rather a sincere interest in a moral society that protects the welfare of every individual.
Despite the fact that it is difficult not to be aware of their conservatism, I am not sure the political terminology of right vs. left is useful in this context. When we talk about war and targeted killings and drones, the only indication that we have a different social and political background are the social indicators, bearded men, the women in hijabs and that is pretty superficial. We are on the same page. Ann Wright pointed out that she was never a full Ambassador. Dr Zaki and Dr. Rahman replied that she is truly an ambassador in the best sense of the word. One speaker referred to our (CodePink Activist) jihad; an accurate use of the term, and I can’t say I didn’t feel honored.
What follows is a sample of some of the issues raised and some of the attitudes I noticed.
A retired Airforce General, formerly Vice Chief of the entire Pakistani Airforce, asked whether the US would unleash a nuclear war on Pakistan if they took a hard line against the drone attacks. The question surprised me, coming from such a high level. It had not occurred to me that our government might do such a thing. It is unthinkable, and yet the question was asked.
The next speaker asked whether drones are, in fact, more humane than the practices of WWII, carpet bombing Europe, and the firebombing of Japanese cities followed by nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He went on to say that in that light, the issue of sovereignty is paramount. Drone Strikes violate the sovereignty of Pakistan (not to mention Yemen, Somalia and a few others).
I did not get to answer, but I wanted to point out that the US is NOT AT WAR with Pakistan. Therefore there can be no collateral damage. However, he went on to approach my point by raising some collateral issues. For instance, he pointed out that there are no clear procedures for determining targets, and especially in the case of signature strikes, where the specification of ‘suspicious activity’ is undefined. He was concerned that narrow present requirements are overriding strategic concerns. Leah responded, saying that a weapon should not be fired unless there is imminent danger to people. In this case, the weapon is the imminent danger, and war is the problem.
Another gentleman said that the problem is not the drones, or the aid money or the Pakistani military. Rather, it is a fundamental disagreement between the 2 military establishments. Honestly, I think it is more than a disagreement. It is a conflict of interest, where there is an unwillingness to compromise on either side. Leah pointed out that aggressive war is a War Crime according to International Law. Toby quoted “Terrorism is the poor man’s war and war is the rich man’s terrorism.” Another great quote “Collateral damage is an Orwellian euphemism for mass murder.”
A number of attendees at the meeting were from Khyber Pakhtunkwa (The Northwest Territory) and the FATA (Federally Administrated Tribal Area), i.e. Pakistani Waziristan. One gentleman stood and said that the real problem is that the people there are completely unempowered. They have no elected government. They are ruled instead by a state appointed bureaucracy and military enforcers. They have no one to speak for them; no leader with the power to provide a safe haven.
We usually hear that the Pakhtuns in FATA wish to continue with tribal rule, a situation which isolates their internal political system from the external one, though this situation disenfranchises them within the larger system. This speaker said, “Please give us the right to rule ourselves.” Another speaker said he felt that years of agreement and cultural sharing had been shattered in a moment. But history tells us that this agreement was in some ways a fragile remnant of colonialism. And yet, our discourse in this meeting tells me the roots live on.
At this point, we turned our conversation towards evaluating solutions. We spoke for more than hour, but I captured it as a kind of brainstorm, so what follows are some comments and ideas for action that emerged:
- What are some successful strategies used by peoples against their own governments?
- We need to target both our governments (and more)
- A grand strategy of preemption is unacceptable
- To what extent can protesting make a difference?
- We need to raise the consciousness of the people, especially in the US
- We tried to prosecute Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, but could not get any support.
- How much of a difference would such a prosecution make?
- The problems we have are not new. They have been around for 20 years, more.
- How can we ensure that we don’t just create another wrong?
- In many cases the courts support policies against the people.
- How can we get the courts to address [subvert] improper behaviors of the government and military?
- We need a new system with new terms of engagement that avoid war and killing.
- We need more journalists
- A wrong war produces wrong results (WWI and WWII as fought in the Asian and Africa colonies are examples)
- Close the supply routes make then pay a ‘friendship price’ (turning the tables?)
- Can we take the drone case to the ICC?
- We need new international regulations (which I take to mean that we need new codifications for the international protocols that already exist)
- We need a stronger international coalition to go up against the ‘great powers’
- Can the Non Aligned Movement of 120 countries fill this role?
A gentleman complained that the [colonial] people are just fishing for power, like the Russians who, rather than address the problem they found, attempted to coopt Afghanistan to their own interests. Returning to an earlier point, a gentleman named Azem Ahmed said with some confidence that the US will not launch an attack on Pakistan if they shoot down a drone or ban them categorically from their airspace. He said that the US government is not foolish. They will talk and perhaps put sanctions on them, but there would be a long time to work out the problem. “Because”, he said, “they still need us.”
Dr. Zaki closed the discussion with the following remark. He said, “If you ask me, should we stop drones or end war? I will say that we should end war.” This was a fitting end for two hours of sharing and discussion among people who might seem to occupy opposite poles of society, but who found themselves in agreement on the issues of war and peace, respect for the dignity and lives of individuals and the sovereignty of nations, and what are perhaps the most important issues in global society at present.