The CIA launched a drone strike in Pakistan on Sunday that killed “three suspected militants” in an “abandoned school building” in Waziristan. As the New York Times notes in a report on the strike, this was the “first such attack since the country’s Parliament demanded an end to those missions just over two weeks ago.”
Jim White over at Emptywheel.net points out that this interrupted negotiations the US was engaged in with Pakistan. The attack just underlines the reality that the Obama administration is largely indifferent to the rage the Pakistani government has against the US drone program. In fact, some members of the administration will even slander studies on civilian deaths caused by drone attacks and say, “There are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.”
The reality is that Pakistan’s parliament is powerless in the face of the United States. So long as the Obama administration cares little about the concerns of the government and people of Pakistan, the covert operations will continue. Without political pressure from Americans, there is nothing to stall or stop the government from launching drone strikes every other day.
Over the weekend, I attended an international drone summit in Washington, DC, co-organized by CODEPINK, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve. Dr. Amna Buttar, a member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly in Pakistan, spoke at the summit. She shared with me in an interview just how powerless Pakistan is in the face of America’s covert drone program saying, “There’s no way,” the program will stop without pressure from Americans. “That’s what I feel. I am in the government there and I am a politician. And, I see that.”
What are they going to do? We’re just a lot of people here or there, people who do a lot of — I call them cyber-warriors. And I used to be one of those people until I went there and I see—What are they going to do? We are not like Iran. We are not like Venezuela. We are not even like India. What are we going to do, shoot down American drones? We are not in a position to fight a war with America. So, what are we going to do? They’re powerless.
They say no. Parliament has said no. We do what we can – stop their NATO supplies – and we will try to do whatever we can, and that’s only possible because of a democratic government. If it was a dictator, this would not even have happened, because in a dictatorial regime people can’t find any news, any information. The only information you will get is what the military wants to feed you. [emphasis added]
Buttar has dual citizenship. She spent many years working in the United States in medicine. She has engaged in human rights activism to help poor women in Pakistani prisons. Five years ago she went to Pakistan to become a politician and extend her activism into the government of Pakistan.
She describes herself as being “unique” because she can see “the view” from her Pakistan street and from her US street. She sees from her US street that the “general public doesn’t even know what drones are” or know of the impact.” She knows from her Pakistan street that “someone can push a button and people are killed.” Thousands of innocents lose their lives. Only about 170 supposed terrorists have been killed.
During her presentation at the drone summit, she asked, “What have the Pakistani people done?” She recounted history and how there were really no terror attacks before 1979.
Afghanistan was occupied by Russia. That’s when Charlie Wilson was a senator and that’s when the American government and the Israeli government funded the mujahideen, gave them weapons, gave them technology for this war against Russia. And then, where 600 million refugees came into Pakistan, that’s when the seed of the terror tree was planted.
She said intelligence agencies in America and in Pakistan fueled the creation of Taliban. They fueled the creation of groups that are now being fought.
Now, Pakistani people – 190 million Pakistani people – are victims of [terrorism]. They are the victims of remote control killing. Because, viewed from my street when I was a little girl in Lahore, it was a very peaceful city. It was a mix of ancient and modern city. And today I am very sorry to say I wanted my girl to go back and see that view, but she will never see that view. She will be tainted [by] this security, guard, gated communities, this sheer fear in Lahore. In last five years, in Lahore alone, which is a city of 8 million people.
In Lahore alone, I think there have been more than 30 terrorist-mediated bombings. And it happens – there is a drone attack and then there is a terrorist-mediated attack. Our markets, our hotels, our restaurants, our schools, our railway stations. Just two weeks ago there was an attack on railway station. We have to think of these victims. We have to think of 190 million whose lives have been made living hell because of this war on terror and these terror attacks and these remote-controlled killings.
Buttar says with great conviction that the onus is on the American people to hold the US government “accountable for wars and intervention in Pakistan.” She says, “We are intervening in sovereign countries’ politics and issues.” And we should not do that — not give covert under-the-table money and instead give civilian aid for schools, hospitals – really focus on education because problems we are facing are really going to be solved by financial independence.”
It is the dependence on military aid from the US and NATO countries and the monopoly of force, which the US has on the region, that really makes Pakistan impotent in the face of American power. This gives the US an unrestrained ability to bully Pakistan into accepting whatever counterterrorism operations the US wants to carry out in Pakistan.
The struggle Buttar is engaged in and the fact that she has charged into the middle of this conflict to try and save the lives of Pakistanis from terror is very inspiring. It is also disheartening because one knows that the sense of duty she had to leave American and go serve Pakistanis is not likely to be understood by Americans here at home. She is more likely to be vilified for making the decision to go fight the US covert drone program, which regularly kills terror suspects extrajudicially and also kills civilians.
However, it is people like Buttar who really make one realize that the issue of drone strikes isn’t and shouldn’t be about what is possible in America’s broken political system and how a push to end drone attacks will affect Obama’s chances of beating Mitt Romney. She makes it clear that one is morally bankrupt to think like that. Americans have a responsibility to engage in conversation, to force their government to disclose what exactly they are doing to other countries’ peoples covertly and in America’s name. And whether it is feasible, possible or likely is irrelevant when faced with the fact that this is what must happen to save people from bloodshed and trauma.
Here is the interview I did with Dr. Amna Buttar. Special thanks to Samantha Colon of FDL, who helped me get Buttar for an interview: