"You're not really going to Pakistan, are you?" "You've seen the State Department travel warning?" "Don't they hate us over there?"
There are questions our friends and relatives are asking as we embark on a delegation to Pakistan to protest the drone attacks that have killed so many innocent Pakistanis over the past 8 years.
But the Pakistanis have been asking us very different questions. "Why do the American people support these barbaric and cowardly drone attacks?" "How would you like it if foreigners flew death machines into your airspace, murdering innocent men, women and children?" "Don't you know that these attacks are counterproductive, driving locals into the hands of extremist groups out of a desire for revenge?"
When it comes to drones, Americans and Pakistanis see the world through different lenses. Americans are looking through the eyes of remote-control pilots safely ensconced in bases in the United States, while Pakistanis are at the receiving end of the bull's eye. Polls show to the two peoples as polar opposites: 83% of Americans support the use of drones against "terrorist suspects overseas"; in Pakistan, among those who say they know something about drones, virtually all-- 97%--oppose them .
Many Pakistanis who raged against the "Innocence of Muslims" film were venting long-held resentments towards the United States stemming from drone attacks (along with other policies such as the US mishandling of the war in Afghanistan, the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, and the US pro-Israel bias in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict).
A newly released study Living Under Drones , written by human rights researchers from Stanford and New York Universities, details hundreds of Pakistani civilian casualties and the devastating effects of drone strikes on the local population. "In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling "targeted killings' of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false," the study asserts.
Instead, the study concludes that the CIA drone program in Pakistan has not made America any safer and instead has turned the Pakistani public against the United States. Indeed, 80% of Pakistanis have a negative opinion of the United States and three-in-four Pakistanis consider the United States their enemy.
Imran Khan, Pakistan's famous cricket player turned politician--and the country's most popular figure , has been championing the cause of drone victims, describing the U.S. use of lethal drones as "immoral and insane" and "a clear violation of international laws and fundamental human rights."
On October 7, Khan will be leading a peace march to Waziristan, a poor, dangerous, isolated tribal area of Pakistan where drones have killed so many people. "The people of Waziristan stand isolated, infrastructure has been destroyed, people have been displaced, their children haven't gone to schools in years and economic activities stand paralyzed," Khan explained .
He expects some 50,000 Pakistanis to join the march to this area where entry by non-residents is normally prohibited. "We believe that continued reliance on military strategy will push the people of the region towards the terrorists. We want to give them hope and show the world that the way to win this war is to isolate the terrorists and win hearts and minds of the people," said Khan.
Human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who is fighting for compensation for the families of drone victims, said "People in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas think that no one cares about their sufferings. This visit and march will be a chance to show them that we care."
Among those marching will be the U.S. delegation organized by the peace group CODEPINK. The delegates, ranging in age from 23 to 85, are paying their own way and putting themselves at risk out of conviction that Americans must do more to stop the killing. Many of the delegates have already been actively involved in educating, protesting and mobilizing Americans against drone attacks. They have been vigiling--and getting arrested--outside air force bases, at the headquarters of drone manufacturers, at drone lobbyist events, in Congress and outside the White House.
In addition to the October 7 march, delegates will be having one-on-one meetings in Islamabad with people who have been injured by drones and people who have lost loved ones in drone attacks, as well as government officials, women's group, human rights organizations and think tanks. The group has also raised funds to help victims with their medical needs, since the U.S. government pays no compensation to people it has mistakenly harmed. One of the people they will be helping is Sadaullah, a 16-year-old who lost an eye and two legs in a drone attack.
The group is already receiving an outpouring of support from Pakistanis via twitter, Facebook, email and radio shows. "I didn't know that there were Americans willing to speak out against your government's policies. Your gesture has helped change my opinion of Americans," said one Facebook comment.