On Drone Warfare, Pakistani Man: “We Are The People Who Do Not Matter”
(L-R) Samina Sundas, Medea Benjamin, Dianne Budd and Toby Blome discuss CODEPINK's recent delegation to Pakistan.
“We are the people who do not matter; our voices cannot be heard over here,” one Pakistani man told Dianne Budd. “We are lucky for you to be here, and we want everyone to come fearlessly here.”
Budd is a member of CODEPINK, an anti-war organization that recently led a delegation of 34 activists on a trip to Pakistan in October. Last night, the organization hosted a report back in San Francisco to discuss their experiences in a country devastated by U.S. killer drones and our continued military intervention.
“People there feel so unseen and unheard,” Budd said.
This is perhaps because people haven’t made a real effort to see or hear them. According to CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, tribal areas in Pakistan have been off limits to foreigners for ten years. And so when CODEPINK’s delegation arrived, despite threats to their lives, hundreds of people had surrounded them, staring — “almost as if we were animals in a zoo,” Benjamin said. “They were so amazed to see Americans who had come there, especially Americans who had come there to denounce the drones. And everyone wanted to touch us, take their picture with us, just interact with us.”
Members of CODEPINK’s delegation spoke continuously about the hospitality they received, and how they were greeted so warmly by the Pakistanis they visited. Benjamin recalled that when the delegation got on stage at a rally, people immediately chanted: “Welcome! Welcome! We want peace! We want peace!”
Benjamin said, “It was so beautiful just to look out there and feel that people are so open to a loving and compassionate message, they want to hear that from Americans. They want really desperately to know that there are Americans who care about their lives.”
Which may not seem like the case as our drones continue to wreak havoc on their lives. As Benjamin said, our drones hover above their skies. Families are scared to go out as well as stay home. They are afraid of sending their children to school, to go to weddings and funerals, which are often drone targets. There is also fear of holding community meetings to talk about these issues because one of their community meetings was once attacked by a drone — killing 42 of the most respected leaders in the community. The drones have also increased depression and suicide throughout the country.
“What is happening in Pakistan is totally unlike the Pakistan I grew up in,” said Samina Sundas, founder and Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice Foundation.
Meanwhile, secrecy continues to surround the drone program and its effectiveness in killing militants. There is an estimate of about 2,600 - 3,400 people killed via drone in Pakistan — only two percent of which were on the U.S. government’s high-value target list. Most of the rest go unnamed and unacknowledged by the U.S. government.
The media, however, reports drones are constantly killing militants, mainly because Obama re-defined the term “militant” to mean every man of military age. In addition, CODEPINK activist Toby Blome said that while in Pakistan, she learned that some militants’ names are used multiple times in news reports to justify drone use. One Pakistani told her a militant’s name was used three times in the media, and exclaimed, “How many times can one man die?”
Still, as Benjamin noted, whether or not drones are “effective” in their mission looks past the fact that our military interventions do not create peace or stability. Pakistani people are living a life of fear under our drones as well as under the Taliban and its rising numbers. Benjamin added, “We see most people join the Taliban not out of ideology but out of despair and revenge.”
The Pakistanis CODEPINK’s delegation met with, however, were not seeking revenge, but rather peace for their community. Toby said she asked one man who lost his son and brother via drone, if he would use drone technology if he could have it. She said, “He answered, without hesitation, ‘Of course, I’d use them to shut down other drones.’” She then asked him if he would ever attack the U.S. with them and he said, “Absolutely not, those are innocent people over there.”
The delegation hopes that Americans will continue to stand up and take action against drones. CODEPINK encouraged the audience to shut down airbases that send drones overseas and force their local representatives to take a stance against drones. On Sunday, the day before the report back, CODEPINK members staged a die-in in front of Diane Feinstein’s house. Feinstein chairs the U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence and overseas the CIA.