(First published In Asia Despatch 25/5/2011)
At the same time as demonstrators gathered in Spain and Portugal this week-end to protest at government cuts, greed and corruption, Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan opposition Party Tehreek- e -Insaf (PTI) Movement for Justice, drew enthusiastic crowds in Karachi to participate in a two day sit-in against America’s use of drones. UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) are used for surveillance and to target and bomb insurgents in the so called “war on terror”, however both their accuracy and legality are currently under question. The message was heard, loud and clear, deaths of civilians in drone attacks (known by the US as “collateral damage”) is not acceptable.
The enigmatic leader decried US interference in the country stating that this was not wanted and that breaching state sovereignty would no longer be tolerated. Khan promised cheering protestors gathered at Native Jetty Bridge that the PTI would stage similar sit-ins in every part of Pakistan to halt NATO supplies if drone strikes continued. This is the second such gathering of its kind, the first dharna (peaceful demonstration) took place outside Peshawar in April and Khan can be seen on the video here addressing his audience young and old, men and women from all walks of life http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb3STwxV_2Q&feature=related
During the previous week-end of action, protestors succeeded in closing down the NATO supply line for two days supported by many tanker drivers who live in fear of their vehicles being torched by insurgents on this treacherous route to Afghanistan. Khan repeatedly highlights the thousands of men, women and children that have lost their lives through US drone attacks and claims that these strikes (along with military operations) are the cause of “factories of terrorism” in Pakistan.
He urged the country to move away from reliance on US funding calling the conflict “America’s war not Pakistan’s”. The Government also came under scrutiny when the Party Chairman decried, “I ask that the government stop NATO supplies via Afghanistan, but I am sure they can’t, because these shame- proof rulers are getting dollars”. He went on to argue that “there was not a single Taliban militant in Pakistan before 9/11 but the country was facing terrorism, bombing and drone strikes because of joining this war”.
The Express Tribune named a number of prominent PTI officials who took part in the event which included Kasim Khan Suri (Baloch chapter), Secretary General for PTI (Khyber Paktunkwala) Shah Farman and Nadeemul Haq, President for the Party (Sindh faction). Dr Fauzia Siddique, the sister of Dr Aafia Siddique https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=b9j-mZkHJZI#at=29 was also there to support joined by former ambassador, Zafar Hilaly, former SHC Judge, Wajihuddin and rock star Ali Azmat.
Some observers argue that there are inconsistencies with regard to Khan’s actions on the campaign front. Kashif N Chaudhary, author of an article Hiding Behind the Drones writes that critics wonder why he has not been vocal enough in condemning religious fanatics across Pakistan. Chaudhary recognises that Imran Khan DOES condemn all forms of terror but queries “why does he fail to protest against all these terrorist organisations and against their distorted teachings with the same vigour that he employs when railing against US drones” http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2011/05/hiding-behind-the-drones/
However Dr Arif Alvi, Secretary General PTI was quick to respond today to the latest attack from Pakistan Taliban on a naval base in Karachi, saying “PTI strongly condemns the attack on PNS Mehran. The perpetrators are anti-Pakistani and should be severely punished. We stand by our armed forces.” He stated that “PTI was deeply saddened by the loss of lives of security officials, may their souls rest in peace and Allah give patience to their families. We stand by you in testing times.” The 15 hour siege ended with 16 dead, 12 security personnel and 4 attackers, others were captured and taken into custody to be questioned. Taliban claimed this latest assault was in response to the killing of innocent civilians. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2011/05/20115238375948314.html
There are concerns from some quarters that the Pakistan government is compliant in allowing the US to enter its territory to bomb militants and is failing to protect the people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Syed Adnan Khakhel who spoke at the dharna felt that those living in Waziristan (an area seen as a hotbed of insurgency) were being punished for crimes they did not commit. Film actor Ajab Gul from Peshawar added his voice to the protest saying that “the people in Waziristan don’t have clothes or education. All that they have left is their life, and now even that is being taken away from them.”
There are now attempts to take test cases to court and a conference of international lawyers to be held in Berlin next week will address some of the issues surrounding litigation across borders. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, an international multi-faith peace organisation with offices in Oxford plans to organise an anti-drone conference later this year where interested parties from diverse backgrounds can get together to find a way forward to educate the public, lobby governments and support victims.
The influence of the US within Pakistan’s borders is seen by many to be both divisive and destructive to a nation which has considerable potential. Umar Khayyam, a Khan supporter and eloquent writer, described his homeland in these words :-
“We are a country of 180 million people, home to the fifth largest military machine of the world, duly complemented by the might of a formidable intelligence- security apparatus. We are the fourth biggest nuclear power of the world. We are blessed with abundance of food, fertile lands, four seasons, rich landscape, monumental mineral resources; staggering coal, copper and gas deposits and an extremely gifted and resilient human resource. We are a monumentally resilient and lion-hearted nation. Nobody can brave and ride out the most vicious of storm, the way we do. Nobody can eclipse our uncanny knack of staging a comeback from nowhere. When the going gets tough, nobody can get going like us.”
He had this to say in response to the call for action,
“we need to bring about the end of this rabid War of Terror to pacify our western borders, to save Pakistan from the fury of the Promethean Fire of our times. The thronging of the KPT Bridge and choking off the supply lines of NATO, is a vital step towards that crucial end, Wars of survival are not fought by military might alone, but it is the nation, which acts as the first and the last line of impregnable defense, against all assaults and aggressions directed at national sovereignty.”
The two day sit-in at Native Jetty Bridge was considered a success with thousands in attendance. One product of the protest was the formation of the Karachi Declaration with calls for an “indefinite dhana” and devised a series of collective measures to take action on perceived problems, as follows:-
May 22, 2011
The massive participation of people from all walks of life in the Karachi Dharna is proof that the people of Pakistan are united in their efforts to regain the lost national sovereignty, an end to the murderous drone attacks, and stop the double faced politics practiced by the ruling party and the so called opposition in parliament.
The Karachi Dharna condemns the continuing drone attacks in the face of the Joint Resolution of the Parliament which was yet another attempt to hoodwink the people by the present day Mir Jafars and Mir Sadiqs.
The Dharna passed the following resolution:
1. To free Pakistan from foreign domination and the stooges that rules us.
2. It demands the resignation of the government for its failure to protect the fundamental rights of the people including the right to life and security.
3. It demands the cancellation of all 7,000 visas issued without security clearance and the expulsion of all private US security contractors within 7 days. If the government fails to expel the private security contractors within one week, the PTI would expose the residences of the private security contractors in all major cities of Pakistan.
4. It resolves to block NATO supply routes in different parts of the country without any prior notice.
5. To hold a national convention in Islamabad to unite and mobilize all segments of society against the present government.
6. The PTI calls on the Army Generals to live up to their oath to protect the life and property of Pakistanis against any foreign force that breaches our sovereignty.
7. To hold a Dharna for an indefinite period in front of the Parliament house in Islamabad. The date of the Dharna would be announced soon.
Demonstrations were not limited to Pakistan. In London, England, supporters of PTI gathered outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square to protest in line with the Karachi dharna http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg5CJL7wsgY&feature=share and were planning further action to coincide with the visit of President Barak Obama. There are now attempts to take test cases to court which involves co-operation between British and Pakistani lawyers working jointly on cases of those affected by drone strikes. In addition, a conference of international lawyers is to be held in Berlin next week which will address some of the issues surrounding litigation across national boundaries. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, an international multi-faith based peace organisation with offices in Oxford plans to organise an anti-drone conference later this year where interested parties from diverse backgrounds can get together to find a way forward to educate the public, lobby governments and support victims. An invitation will be sent to Imran Khan in the hope that he will attend.
Kamran Farooqui, a young man who participated in the dharna and sent me photographs of the event was positive that it was a vehicle for change and had this to say about his experience, “what a programme..! When Imran was smiling, people were smiling…when he was roaring, people were roaring…now I can see he is the only leader in Pakistan with whom every Pakistani, from every race of life, feels connected by heart.”
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”.