'You Are Welcome!': U.S. Delegation's Message of Peace Received Warmly in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Many Americans have an image of Pakistan and its people as "teeming with anti-Americanism." Americans see images on TV of angry Pakistani demonstrators burning American flags. Indeed, polls say three of four Pakistanis view the United States as an enemy.
But in the last week, we and thirty other Americans have been blessed with an experience few Americans have shared, seeing a more hopeful side of the relationship of the people of Pakistan to Americans. For the last week in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, and then in the nation’s tribal areas, our delegation that came to Pakistan to protest U.S. drones has been showered with tremendous hospitality, warmth and friendship.
The tribal area our peace delegation visited last weekend borders Waziristan, which since 2004 has been continuously hit with U.S. drone strikes. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 2,500 and 3,200 people have been killed in these drone strikes. A recent report from Stanford and NYU law schools noted that only 2 percent of these deaths were "high-level" targets. The rest were civilians, including women and children, and low-level fighters.
Moreover, as the report highlighted, in addition to those who have been killed and injured, the entire population of Waziristan, especially children,have been terrorized by the drones that have been constantly circling overhead, 24 hours a day, because people don't know who is going to be targeted or when the drones might strike. “The drones have changed our way of life,” we were told by Karim Khan, a Waziri who lost his son and brother to a drone strike. “People are now afraid to attend community meetings, funerals or weddings; some are even afraid to send their children to school.”
Pakistanis we met in the tribal areas last weekend are largely people who haven’t seen Americans in 10 years, since the start of the "global war on terror." This is both because the Pakistan government doesn’t allow foreigners into the region and because of the fear Americans have of the "lawless" tribal areas. The State Department travel advisory says that due to security concerns, the U.S. government restricts travel by U.S. officials in the areas we visited this weekend.
This means that many young Pakistanis in the tribal areas have never seen an American in their lives. All they may know about America is that it is a country that conducts and promotes violence in the region, whether by drone strikes, the war across the border in Afghanistan, or a U.S.-promoted offensive by the Pakistani military that displaced more than a hundred thousand people in South Waziristan.
Our group was invited by political leader Imran Khan to join an anti-drones rally in Waziristan and the special government permission we received marked the first time that the Pakistani government has admitted foreigners into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in nearly a decade. Despite rumors that our group would be targeted by anti-American militants, on the journey from Islamabad to Waziristan the delegation received overwhelming support from Pakistanis who held processions along the route. When we arrived in the town of Hatala to spend the night, we were swamped by hundreds of Pakistanis, particularly teenage boys, who rushed to look at this rare species and have their pictures taken with us.
The following day, the government, citing security concerns, closed the road that would have taken us to the planned rally site in Kotkai, a town in the heart of South Waziristan. So the American group held a rally with Imran Khan in the place where we had spent the night.