ISLAMABAD: The United States Charge d’Affaires has told a visiting US delegation that there will be no drone attacks during the PTI peace march to the South Waziristan Agency (SWA).
However, the delegation members pointed out that the US would exercise restrain regarding the drone strikes only because its citizens would be a part of this march.
US envoy Richard E Hoagland on Wednesday had a meeting with an American peace delegation which is in Pakistan to protest against the policies of the US government towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. The delegation would accompany the PTI peace rally to show solidarity and support to those killed in the drone strikes.
The delegation comprising 32 members of CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace and other rights groups from the US and Canada has been hosted by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, a local legal charity representing family members of the victims of drone strikes in Pakistan.
The meeting of the US team with the acting ambassador coincided with the 12th anniversary of the start of the US military operation in Afghanistan.
The peace veterans expressed grave concern during the meeting over the US foreign policy, especially with regard to the continuing drone strikes in Waziristan, which are against the sovereignty of Pakistan and breach of several international laws.
The delegation, led by former US diplomat and former army colonel Ann Wright and Madea Bejamin, the author of “Drone Warfare” and founder of CODEPINK, told Ambassador Hoagland that their organisations had done a lot of work on the war issue and found that the people at large considered the US as “heartless”, thinking the lives of people in other countries as unimportant.
Ann Wright said, “Human lives outside the US have today become dispensable and disposable as the people were horrified to know about President Obama’s secret kill list, which identified any adult man in the tribal region to be a ‘militant’ or a ‘terrorist’. There was a good reason why so many people were now identifying the US as the enemy.”
Hoagland was told by the peace delegation that the lives of the Waziristan people were in danger every single day as there was a wide disconnect between what the people wanted in the US and what was happening at the higher levels of administration where the foreign policies were not only abhorrent but lacking transparency and accountability.
Ambassador Hoagland said that he would preface any question to him by the delegation with the statement that since the US drone programme was still classified, he would not answer their queries. He said there had been problems with the drone technology from 2004. He said in 2008 when President Obama came into office, there had been very few civilian causalities or collateral damage as a result of these strikes and the deaths were just in “double digits” to the best of his knowledge and there had been no deliberate strikes at civilians in the Waziristan area and no “secondary attacks” at rescuers or even funeral processions.
Ambassador Hoagland was urged by the delegation to consider accurate sources such as the report, “Living under Drones” released by the Stanford University and NYU College of Law last week and reports by independent sources such as the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalists, which had given several instances of drones targeting rescuers and funeral processions. The delegation said what they knew since there was no US presence in these areas and no method of acquiring accurate information on their own. Ambassador Hoagland said that this was indeed the key and there was certainly no American presence in the areas where these people were being killed.
Ambassador Hoagland said he could assure the delegation that there would be no drone strikes during their time spent in Waziristan for the October peace march. At this, Leah Bolgen, President of the Veterans of Peace and a former military officer, remarked that the US government did not want to kill its own citizens but was not ready to spare the citizens of other countries. He remarked that the Americans should be present in the areas to get the drone attacks stopped.
Tigh Berry, another prominent rights activist, said that he was currently in front of the DC Appellate Court where the US Central Intelligence Agency had repeated for the third time that they could not talk about the drone programme. He asked how they could ever have a logical debate about the US policies where the government could not make them transparent and accountable to the general public. Ambassador Hoagland said that he could not comment on the issue.
To a question as to how the family members of drone victims were ever compensated, Ambassador Hoagland said that in the very unfortunate Salala incident, where a misunderstanding had led to the deaths of several Pakistani military officials, there had been an unofficial offer of compensation to the victims, so compensation was not in the realm of the impossible. However, there was currently no structure in place to compensate any families of drone victims, which was a rhetorical or moral issue for which “all the governments involved would have to come to a consensus”.
The head of a prominent anti-war coalition in the US said that there were several propagandas targeting the Muslims abroad nowadays. “Hate speech is not a part of freedom of expression but rather like shouting fire in a theatre as there is justified anger at an anti-Islam fervor present in foreign countries,” he said.
In response to a question as to why, apart from the innocent civilians, the people targeted in these drone strikes were not being tried in a proper tribunal since they were civilian combatants just as the people who had been incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Ambassador Hoagland said he could not comment. He said the world was not “black and white” these days and diplomacy could be very grey. He refused to say any further on this issue.
CODEPINK presented to Ambassador Hoagland a petition signed by more than 2,000 people opposing the US policy on drone strikes in Waziristan area.
Shahzad Akbar, Legal Director of FFR, urged the ambassador to examine the broader issue of colateral damage. He also presented the ambassador with a documentary on civilian deaths in the areas.