(Photo by @ImranGhazaliPK)

(update below)

To show solidarity with the people of Waziristan in Pakistan, who have experienced and been victims of US drone strikes, thousands of Pakistanis marched in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan led the march. Thirty-one American peace activists affiliated with CODEPINK participated in the march as well.

The motorcade, which left Islamabad on October 6, took a route that ended in Dera Ismail Khan (DIK) on the first day. There was a rally in DIK at the end of this phase of the march. Then, on October 7, the motorcade continued onward and passed through Tank, a city nearby Waziristan, where tens of thousands of people met the march as it arrived.

Then, according to Khan, the convoy continued toward South Waziristan. “Police hurdles delayed” the march for “three hours.” The “fifteen-mile” convoy managed to make it to the border of Waziristan, but the Pakistan army told those at the head of the convoy there was “serious danger” ahead in Waziristan. Khan and those at the front of the march had no intention of challenging any security or military forces to get into Waziristan and turned around for a rally in Tank to conclude the march.

Despite being turned around, there was a breakthrough, and for the first time, the Pakistan government permitted foreigners into FATA, something that had not happened in nearly a decade.

The delegation with CODEPINK was disappointed they did not get to South Waziristan but admitted the march was a clear success because the issue of drone warfare had garnered international attention because of the action. One delegate, Judy Bello from Rochester, New York, concluded it had shown there were Americans who cared about the “plight” of Pakistanis.

According to DAWN, the “US peace campaigners left the convoy before it reached Tank with their spokeswoman saying they felt they had achieved their goals.”

Upon conclusion of the first day, it was reported by the Frontier Post that the march might not go much further than Dera Ismail Khan, where it will be stopping overnight. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government was reportedly unhappy with the march and the “provincial government” had raised the issue “of over hundred foreign media personnel and human rights activists coming with Khan,” who “possess visas but did not obtain [a No Objection Certificate (NOC)] to enter DI Khan or SWA.” Without proper permits, the personnel, activists and any foreigners were not likely to get into South Waziristan.

During the end rally, Khan told the crowd the US government “tells American people one thing and Pakistanis the other,” according to DAWN.

“Are these people (civilian drone victims) not humans?” Khan asked. “Who are these ‘nameless’ people who are killed in the name of collateral damage?” He noted the current government in Pakistan under President Asif Ali Zardari had shown little to no resistance to US drone operations

Khan also took advantage of the moment to celebrate the youth who were there as participants. He said, “When these youngsters can go to Waziristan, wait until they march to Islamabad.”

Incidentally, the march came to its conclusion on the eleven-year anniversary of the Afghanistan War. The Obama administration’s surge in Afghanistan in 2009 involved around 9,000 Marines being positioned in “small Afghan towns” near the Pakistan border “to stop Taliban soldiers and supplies” from entering Afghanistan from Pakistan, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The drone war in Pakistan could be said to be an expansion of the Afghanistan War, as the government would likely say the drones attack terrorists or militants seeking “safe haven” who may have even fought in the war in Afghanistan. And of course, drones are used in the Afghanistan War.

A recent report from Columbia Law University and the Center for Civilians in Conflict highlighted:

In Afghanistan, drone strikes and targeting operations utilizing drone surveillance have resulted in mistaken targeting, leading to civilian harm in circumstances that are the same or lower-risk to civilians than covert drone strikes by the CIA and JSOC in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. In Afghanistan, experienced military personnel benefit from a longer-standing US presence and its attendant advantages, including a greater understanding of the local cultural context and the corroboration of intelligence by ground forces. Nevertheless, drone strikes in Afghanistan have caused significant numbers of civilian deaths, sometimes due to mistaken identity. To reduce civilian casualty rates in Afghanistan, US military forces began restricting airstrikes in 2009.

One example of how targeting can go wrong was included in the report. Drone pilot Matt J. Martin targeted a truck in Afghanistan of “insurgents.” Two young boys Martin had not expected appeared after he had fired a missile. All he could do is watch as the two boys were killed along with those in the truck.

All of which is to call attention to the reality, which the US government remains committed to concealing and suppressing: the reality that drones kill civilians and are not some innovative tool of warfare that now makes it possible for a government to only kill its enemies and protect others from becoming collateral damage.

Finally, there are the journalists, pundits and think tankers of the world that have and will continue to smear the march as one that enables the Taliban and other militant groups to commit violence.

Today’s bearer of this message is Cyril Almeida. When commentators, who preach the gospel of drones as the Least Bad Option get a hold of this column, they will be singing its praises:

… Taliban Khan’s antics won’t provide comfort to the enemy, his lies in South Waziristan and on Fata will not swell the enemy’s ranks, and there isn’t going to be a surge in militant violence because Khan wants to play politics with Fata.

But Khan’s march today will have pernicious effects. Complex effects that the glib Khanistas will try and swat away with high-sounding pabulum.

Stripped of the hype — and the lies — Khan’s antics amount to buttressing and mainstreaming resistance to a modern and progressive Pakistan…

Which is to say that the thousands of people, city to city, who greeted the convoy as it wound its way toward South Waziristan were manipulated. They have not generally been outraged toward drones until Khan whipped the people into a frenzy, even though a Pew Global Attitudes project found 17% support for drone strikes.

This same poll also found, “Roughly three-in-four Pakistanis (74%) consider the U.S. an enemy, up from 69% last year and 64% three years ago. And President Obama is held in exceedingly low regard. Indeed, among the 15 nations surveyed in both 2008 and 2012 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, Pakistan is the only country where ratings for Obama are no better than the ratings President George W. Bush received during his final year in office.” (How is that for repairing America’s image?)

Do the critics think people should not be allowed to engage in self-determination and challenge the United States and how the Pakistani government enables the US war on terrorism, a great recruiting tool for militant or violent radical groups in Pakistan? Why do they incessantly repeat their belief that drones are the Least Bad Option and the world’s people must accept it as such, even though those with political imagination can most certainly develop other solutions beyond the false choice presented of Terror or Drones?

Recent reports, like the Columbia Law/Center for Civilians in Conflict report or the Stanford/NYU report, bust open the morally bankrupt arguments of numerous commentators. That is why they ignore people power or snidely offer up criticism.

Like one Pakistani youth eloquently stated just a day ago, “Our government has defaulted on this most basic of its duties – safeguarding the lives of its citizens – and we look towards the youth to lead the effort to put an end to this undeclared and illegal war.” And hopefully this effort drowns out the shrill cacophony of those conflating drone opposition with support for the Taliban.

Update

Judy Bello, a member of the CODEPINK delegation who was part of the march, left a comment on this post. It is worth highlighting.

She clarifies the quote I used from her saying, “Our presence let [Pakistanis] know that somebody out there cares whether they live or die.” People came out on the street to greet the delegation with smiles and peace signs. They lined the roads in some cases and waved their hands to greet the delegation, which fell behind. They were out there for the delegation, not the political party in general.

“Being randomly targeted for death as a PR stunt for a foreign country is terrible abuse of their basic human rights,” Bello writes. “However, these people have all kinds of problems due to the fact that their government continued British colonial policies towards them. It has failed to find ways to integrate them as fully empowered regions of the country and to provide the necessary resources for them to improve their standard of living.”

She reacts to a quote I included in this post on Imran Khan:

It is true the government blocked the last leg of our journey, but it was the Taliban who distributed flyers accusing us of being infidels and threatening to attack the rally. Our hosts were the tribal leaders in the region. This issue is not clearly understood. The tribal leaders are not the Taliban. Where the Taliban are a broad group with no particular territory, the tribes and their leaders are rooted to their ancestral lands. They are not the same. Accusing these people is a matter of mistaken identity. Imran is not beloved by the Taliban though he has good relations with the tribal leaders. In fact, he is a threat because he promises to make them stakeholders in the central government and the mainstream of society.