US missile strikes in Pakistan

My talk for the Day of Resistance rally in Honolulu today:

In 1977, native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko wrote a book called CEREMONY. This is a quote from the book, in which a World War II veteran is reflecting on why he cannot explain the war to an elder of his tribe:

‘In the old ways of warfare, you couldn’t kill another human being in battle without knowing it, without seeing the result. But the old man would not have believed white warfare – killing across great distances without knowing who or how many had died. It was all too alien to comprehend, the mortars and big guns; and even if he could have taken the old man to see the target areas, even if he could have led him through the craters of torn earth to show him the dead, the old man would not have believed anything so monstrous.’

Killing across great distances without knowing who or how many had died. Silko was speaking about a war sixty years ago. Now we have become so used to this kind of warfare that killing across great distances without knowing who or how many have died is perfectly ordinary. Neither US presidential candidate has indicated anything other than a complete endorsement of continuing with such killing. One of them may want an end to the war in Iraq, but he has said repeatedly that he believes in shifting the war to Pakistan ‘to get Al Qaida’, as if Al Qaida rests on the shoulders of 160 million Pakistanis. It does not. And if 160 million Pakistanis fail to find and hand over the bogey man Al Qaida, he has threatened repeatedly to take ‘direct action,’ including direct military action. When this action is taken – it is not a question of if this action is taken but when – whether by McCain or Obama, it will be yet more killing across great distances without you knowing who or how many have died.

I would like you to know the cost of this war to Pakistan so far.

Since 2001, the Bush administration has regularly been launching missile strikes across the Afghan border and into Pakistan. This particular year, this election year, the US strikes in Pakistan have increased alarmingly. There was one just yesterday. Eleven people died. As with all the other strikes, this one was ostensibly to take out a Taliban leader, but the leader got away, while innocent people died. The American missile strike in Pakistan last month killed 23 innocent men, women, and children. Between August 23 and October 10, at least eleven missile strikes killed more than a hundred people. This is according to Fox News, by the way. So if Fox can acknowledge it, the numbers must be even higher. This is in addition to the thirteen people killed on January 29. The twelve people killed on February 28. The eighteen people killed on March 17. The twelve killed on May 14. The eleven killed on June 10. And the numerous faceless, uncounted others killed this year, because as I’m sure you know, this is only a very partial list.

Aside from the bombing of villages and the killing of innocent civilians, there are other ways in which this war is ruining the lives of ordinary people you are not meant to see. It is estimated that around 5,000 Pakistanis suspected of being 'terrorists' have been illegally detained in military torture cells both inside and outside the country. Any one in Pakistan will tell you that most of those who've disappeared have nothing to do with Al Qaeda. They are being held either for no reason other than as evidence of 'peformance' for the US Empire, or because they threaten the internal interests of Pakistan’s rulers.­ Most of those who’ve been illegally detained come from poor, rural areas that are rich in natural resources, particularly in minerals and natural gas. Among those who’ve gone missing are journalists, poets, political activists and their families, and students and their families. Only 200 have been taken to court. None are proven terrorists. A few are released: all tell horrific stories of torture.

What happens when you routinely see US drones flying over your home and watch entire villages being bombed and your families killed and your siblings kidnapped and tortured?

Well, when I left Pakistan a few months ago, I knew peace-loving folks who didn’t even know any Taliban but who were beginning to gradually and grudgingly suppport them. That is in the cities. In the rural areas, more and more young angry men and women are taking up arms. Many of them had never even held a gun till the US ‘war on terror’ began. As one Pakistani recently put it. "This is the biggest gift of George Bush to al-Qa'ida." A country that as a child I knew as ethnically and intellectually dynamic, spirited and for the most part, peace-loving, now has a suicide-bombing just about every day, resulting in more deaths in Pakistan this year than in Afghanistan or Iraq. There were no suicide bombings in Pakistan till this war began.

If we want change, shifting the war to Pakistan is not going to accomplish it. Peaceful, democratic, secular, tolerant societies never grew from intimidation, missile strikes, kidnappings, torture. Change will only come when the United States acknowledges who and how many Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis it has killed since this war began and commits itself to engaging with our countries as partners not targets.