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

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
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”

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.

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:-

Karachi Declaration

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 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 Grayson is Director Co-ordination (Global Operations) Asia Despatch and a
UK researcher /campaigner on global health/human rights awarded ESRC Michael
Young Prize 2009

About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones/WOT/insurgency Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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  1. KHAN says:

    It was really a huge Dharna(Sit-In) by IMRAN KHAN and his party PTI. We all support Imran Khan. We will stop these drones and can not tolerate US interference in our homelans. USA your time is Over ~!! So back off !!

    I really appreciate and praise the great work done by the editor “Carol Anne Grayson” and his love towards humanity, equality and peace. May ALLAH protect us all. Ameen

  2. Thanks for your comments which are much appreciated. I was very happy to see photographs of the event and to hear it was a success. I do believe Mr Khan is sincere in his aims and hope they can be achieved. My heart goes out to the ordinary civilians of Waziristan that are suffering through no fault of their own…

    • Anthony Cordesman says:

      It is scarcely a secret that the United States is fighting an air war in Pakistan on at least four different levels. It is using unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to support U.S. forces in “hot pursuit” in the border area. It is using them to attack Taliban and other insurgent forces near the border to limit their capability to operate in Afghanistan. It is striking at insurgent and terrorist leaders and training camps inside the tribal areas in Waziristan, and it sometimes supports Pakistani forces in strikes against the Pakistani Taliban. The New York Times, Washington Post, Wired and the Long War Journal have all published articles on the details of these supposedly secret operations.

      What has been far less clear, however, is the context. Some reporting makes this look like a massive bombing campaign, and one producing large numbers of unnecessary civilian casualties. Other reporting somehow makes it seem illegitimate or talks about a Pashtun honor code as if U.S. forces can only fight insurgents face-to-face with their weapons on their terms.

      One has to be very careful about unclassified statistics, but the Long War Journal reports that the number of strikes against cadres in Pakistan is very limited. It reports only one strike a year in 2004 and 2005, three in 2006, five in 2007, thirty-five in 2008, fifty-five in 2009 and seventy-seven in the first nine months of 2010. This rise in strike numbers is a kind “surge,” but it adds up to all of 175 strikes over the entire war, and these strikes (65 percent) have been concentrated in North Waziristan where the Pakistani army has been unwilling or unable to act, and almost all of the other 35 percent have been in areas in South Waziristan where the Pakistani Army and Air Force cannot bring anything like the same intelligence, targeting and precision-strike assets to bear.

      There is certainly a steady rise in strikes, but talking about it as “intense combat” is absurd. Wired says the U.S. Air Force (USAF) reported it flew a peak of 19,500 close-air-support sorties in the Iraq War in 2007, and has flown 4,620 so far in 2010. Wired reports that the USAF has said it flew an average of over two thousand a month in Afghanistan in 2009, and over two thousand five hundred a month in 2010. The total number of UCAV strikes in Pakistan over the entire war is a fraction of the air strikes per month in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a tiny number by the standards of any previous air war.

      It is also important to stress that UCAVs are simply the tip of the spear. The UCAV strikes against the insurgent and terrorist networks are the result of one of the most massive and sophisticated targeting efforts in history. They are targeted as a result of the use of virtually every intelligence asset America has from satellites to manned aircraft to human intelligence, and the use of unarmed unmanned combat vehicles. They are subject to careful review to minimize civilian losses, and they still manage to be extremely effective. If one looks at the estimates in the Long War Journal, the seventy-seven UCAV sorties flown through September 2010 killed eighteen senior insurgent leaders, including nine with at least some links to Al-Qaeda.

      As for casualties that are inflicted, one only has media reports to draw upon, but there are several things to consider. We have no alternative way to fight and all of the other options would be far worse even if they were available. The United States can sometimes send in small Special Forces elements and specially trained local fighters, but only in very small operations near the border. Moreover, Special Forces are far safer—and inflict far less civilian casualties—when they can use UCAV sorties than when they are in direct combat.

      Moreover, any land operation that crosses the border and becomes public, and even the most limited helicopter attacks, become a political crisis. Flying manned U.S. fighter aircraft into Pakistan could push Pakistan into shutting down all of its cooperation, and would inevitably inflict much higher casualties. High-speed jet fighters can’t linger over a target for hours to verify a target in order to do as much as possible to strike at a time that ensures civilian casualties are kept to a minimum. Even if Pakistani land forces did take over the job, we have already seen in Swat and South Waziristan that they would have to fight their way in and the end result would be far more Pakistani casualties—and at least ten times more civilians killed and thousands or ten of thousands displaced.

      In contrast, reporting in Wired indicates that all of the UCAV strikes made between 2006 and the present have killed a total of 1,490 insurgents and 104 civilians. Improvements in the rules of engagement have actually cut civilian casualties: The fifty-three strikes in 2009 killed 463 insurgents and forty-three civilians. The seventy-seven strikes in 2010 killed an estimated 546 insurgents and ten civilians, which is 0.12 civilians per sortie versus 0.8 civilians per sortie in 2009. If these numbers are even roughly accurate, no other form of modern war has come close to being this lethal against the enemy and this humane in terms of civilian casualties.

      War remains horrible and still kills the innocent as well as the enemy. But, we need to be realistic. Pakistan is at best a tenuous and divided ally. Islamabad was unwilling to attack Afghan Taliban targets and conduct a major campaign against al-Qaeda before the flood; elements of the ISI remain tied to the Taliban and al-Qaeda; and its civilian government has far too many elements that are corrupt, incompetent and unwilling to act. Fighting a war in Afghanistan that has given the enemy a sanctuary in Pakistan, and al-Qaeda immunity in Pakistan, has little point. More bluntly, if Pakistan cannot provide at least enough cooperation to passively allow such strikes, it is not an ally, it is a major strategic liability.

  3. Stuart Urban says:

    Very interesting to read of your work in this field! And huge congratulations on your Oscar nominated film. I am a film-maker (directed Our Friends in the North) and four feature films. I am planning a project on drones, would like to discuss in case collaboration is possible etc.

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