DISOWNING THE DRONES: MY OWN PERSONAL PEACE MARCH TO WAZIRISTAN

 

First published 1/9/2012

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Friends keep asking me the same question…

Why on earth I am choosing to go to Waziristan, considered to be one of the most volatile and dangerous places on earth?

Simple answer… I refuse to support US and British state sanctioned terror, target killing by drone, the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used in the “war on terror”, the “eye in the sky” used for surveillance which frequently annihilates civilians in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan http://www.for.org.uk/files/drones-conv-killing.pdf

Invited by Imran Khan (the former cricketer turned politician), I will be joining a peace march to Waziristan with international media, human rights activists and anti -war protestors in solidarity with drone victims http://tribune.com.pk/story/426367/waziristan-residents-supportive-of-pti-march-imran/  I plan to publically disassociate, ditch and disown any connection to those drones manufactured as remote control killing machines operated out of airbases in the US and more recently the UK.

I was brought up to believe in legislation based on “innocent until proven guilty” and fair process of law if someone is alleged to have committed a crime. Pakistan is not officially a war zone. Those that are targeted are regarded as “alleged” insurgents. Drones are invading Pakistan’s skies and breaching sovereignty on an almost daily basis now and baby girls are killed as “terrorists”!

No wonder the victims of US “collateral damage” are referred to as “other” by those operating the drones… it would seem they too wish to disassociate themselves from their civilian casualties. How do you go home to your family knowing you have obliterated someone else’s child? How do you justify causing terrible burns to the face of four year old Shakira, now undergoing a series of painful operations to reconstruct her face!

I am disturbed at the “official” reporting of deaths by drone, there are discrepancies in the casualty figures as highlighted by the excellent work of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/ and Gareth Porter http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4-oOnjiGx8  who was recently awarded the Martha Gellhorn prize for Journalism 2012 for his investigation of US ‘killing strategy’ in Afghanistan, including the targeting of people through their mobile phones.

I have attempted to answer several more questions put to me regarding my forthcoming visit to Pakistan below:-

What is the current situation regarding drones in Pakistan?

This recent editorial in The News International (Monday, Aug 27th, 2012) entitled, “Dread of Drones” sums up the current situation eloquently regarding drone strikes:-

The drone issue has reared its ugly head once again. Within the last two days, at least 18 and possibly more people have been killed in strikes in the North Waziristan area. The death toll is likely to rise, with many more people injured. Ostensibly, militants based in various parts of the agency were targeted. Reports in the American press quoting US officials suggest that Badruddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani network, was among those killed in the recent drone strikes. But this has not been confirmed by independent sources. The precise truth as to who was killed and where is of course impossible to establish. But the brief lull we had seen in the drone attacks has ended. Things, we can say, are ‘back to business’ as usual. The claim by the Pakistan government that it had asserted its sovereignty during talks with Washington has quite obviously turned out to be false. Islamabad has no way of stopping the drone strikes, with the recent incursions into its territory by the unmanned aircraft proving this. The summoning of senior US diplomats and the public protestations of complaint are really no different from those we have heard before. They almost inevitably come to naught http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-8-128481-Dread-of-drones

Should the peace march go ahead?

Pakistan is once again under pressure to launch an offensive in North Waziristan with a threat of sanctions from America if it doesn’t accommodate… in my opinion this amounts to bribery. (We will give you aid, other funding if you comply to our wishes). A peace march is needed more than ever. Outside forces seem intent on fuelling further what is pretty much an unofficial civil war in some areas of Pakistan, Muslim fighting Muslim and set to get worse…  Haven’t the civilians of the Tribal Areas suffered enough already? http://dawn.com/2012/08/26/thousands-flee-waziristan-in-fear-of-military-offensive/

Will the march be successful?

It will be successful in that the march is enabling people rarely heard, the victims, to have a voice and will hopefully increase international press coverage to help educate and put more pressure on to stop drone strikes. Ask yourself… who wishes the drones to continue… and in whose interests would it be to prevent a peace march going ahead?

Do I believe Imran’s march is a gimmick?

No, I don’t believe the march is a gimmick, I covered Imran Khan’s previous dharnas (peaceful demonstrations) where he spoke against drones and there were calls to block the NATO supply line…there was a lot less interest from international press then. Imran attracted good crowds and is consistent and vocal in his quest for dialogue on all sides and exploring peaceful alternatives to ongoing conflict. He met and engaged with Tribal Leaders this week that are supporting and keen for the march to go ahead. To me this is more about the issue itself than any one political party, surely representatives from all parties ought to be joining the march and objecting to the killing of Waziristan’s residents.  The event is receiving support both in Pakistan and by those of us outside the region that reject western imperialism and foreign policies that target ordinary people caught between a rock and a hard place! (An anti -drone event will take place in Bradford in advance of the Waziristan march):-

Protest Against Drone Strikes, Centenary Square, Friday 14th September 2012, 5:30pm. Speakers to include George Galloway MP, Imran Khan (official) and Yvonne Ridley).

What about the threat to those attending Peace March in Waziristan?

There are of course security concerns in a number of different directions but we must not bow down to intimidation. Regarding the alleged Taliban “threat”, that has been reported in press recently, my understanding from a Tehreek – e- Taliban  (TTP) statement shared with me from Tribal Area reporters is that a decision by the shura (consultation) is yet to decide how Taliban will respond to the march. There are claims of misquoting regarding any “death threats”. PTI office have released an official response from Imran Khan to any threat in the following statement https://www.insaf.pk/News/tabid/60/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/12661/PTI-responds-to-TTP-threats-on-party-peace-march-to-Waziristan.aspx  Regarding myself, due to the killing of two of my family members by the state, I have learnt to live with death threats for many years…

Life is a risk, one of the biggest lessons to learn is that there is no such thing as security… anything can happen. Sometimes the risk comes in the opposite direction to what we expect. Sadly, it is often easier to maintain conflict than fight for peace… we go where our conscience leads us… in this case for me, towards Waziristan…

Documenting the Victims

It has always been my intention to document drone victims on film, a project initiated with my late colleague Pakistani investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad, kidnapped and tortured to death in 2011… This work will continue, if not through me then by others working with me that will ensure the documentary goes ahead. I am now working with Yacine Helali and Stephen Lee (Veto films) on our drone documentary “The Approximate Target”, our website will be launched shortly and filming begins next week. Anyone interested can follow us on Twitter @vetofilms I am very grateful to all those assisting me on this important issue.

Letters to the state…

This month two letters were sent to my MP Nick Brown informing him of the Waziristan peace march and asserting my right as a British citizen to question the actions of my government and call for an end to drone strikes. This is certainly not the first time I have confronted the government as my late husband and brother in law were another form of UK/US “collateral damage “. I write as a widow that has faced western government cover ups over many years, as a mother that has litigated in both the US and UK attempting to hold state authorities accountable for their alleged crimes  http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/feb/22/oscars-newcastle-nurse-campaigner-film I send my emails also as an award winning researcher that has investigated unlawful killings before. I would not be silenced then and I won’t stay silent now! To quote Martin Luther King Jnr, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

 

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.

 

 

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