This was posted in Intersections International in 2013
May 22, 2013 - I recently traveled to Pakistan to screen my film “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation.” While I was there I had the opportunity to listen to Pakistani people tell me their opinions about the United States drone strikes. I didn’t visit Pakistan to discuss drones, but the topic came up regularly throughout my stay.
"Intersections International” is a non-governmental organization that, according to it’s mission, works with “communities in conflict” and promotes “peace through dialogue.” The discussion on April 22, 2013 at the Serena Hotel centered on US-Pakistani relations. I had been invited to attend by my hosts Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad and Dr. Munazza Yaqoob of the International Islamic University. The Serena Hotel is located within the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad and is surrounded by embassies from around the world.
The conference room was large and there were about 20 people in attendance. There were many women at the table and there was a mix of religions including Christians, Jews, and Muslims. About half of the attendees were Pakistani.
They were given an opportunity to vote on which topics they felt were the most important to discuss. Drone strikes topped the list along with U.S. foreign policy towards Pakistan. The number of drone strikes has increased dramatically during the Obama administration. From 2004 through April 30, 2013 there have been 368 drone strikes in Pakistan and 316 of them have been under President Obama.
My hosts, Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad, executive director of the Iqbal International Institute for Reasearch and Dialogue and Dr. Munazza Yaqoob Chairperson of the Department of English on the female campus of the Islamic University spoke about the affect of U.S. foreign policy on Pakistan.
Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad and Dr. Munazza Yaqoob
Dr. Ahmad began by describing the opinions of Pakistanis towards the United States. He said that he reads local papers and mingles with people of varying backgrounds. Dr. Ahmad has his ear to the ground.
He said President Obama’s "Cairo speech" in 2009 was received well by Pakistani people, but the last several years of his presidency have been a series of disappointments. (One American woman, with eyes downcast, nodded in agreement.) As he said these words I could feel the settling of people’s spirits in the room. If someone had dropped a pin, you would have heard it.
He told us that an overwhelming number of Pakistanis have false beliefs about U.S. foreign policy that might surprise Americans. Among these beliefs is that the United States wants to “take control of Pakistan” and that a “war on terror is a war on Islam.” They believe that the U.S. wants to “impose India’s hegemony over Pakistan.” He said that Pakistanis have a deep-rooted sense that America “wants to break up” Pakistan.” Shockingly he stated that, according to what he has read, many Pakistanis believe that the U.S. wants to take control of Pakistan’s nuclear assets.
Dr. Ahmad understands that none of this is true. He wondered why the U.S. President or the Secretary of State doesn’t stand up and say to the Pakistani people that none of this is true. Ahmad felt that for the U.S. to state clearly that it is a friend of Pakistan and that U.S. commitment to Pakistan is for the long term, it would make a huge difference in how Pakistanis felt towards Americans.
Dr. Munazza Yaqoob, addressed the drone strikes specifically. The strikes are happening in areas of Pakistan where there are not adequate educational programs and unemployment is a chronic problem. These areas are rural and border Afghanistan. Dr. Yaqoob said that the people who live here “are already on the periphery.”
The drone strikes increase the problems in these areas because they kill innocent people including children.
There was a woman at the table whose work amazed me. Mossarat Qadeem, the Minister of Information and Education in Khyber Pakhtunkhw risks her life to turn boys away from the Taliban. She travels to the homes of boys who have been recruited and convinces them to reject the Taliban. In order to speak to these boys she must drive through areas of Pakistan that are so dangerous even workers from the United Nations won’t enter. She speaks with the mother’s of these boys first. (The mothers are often the first to call Ms. Qadeem when they see their sons have been recruited.) Then she talks to the boys. She has successfully turned 100 boys away from the Taliban.
Interestingly when Ms. Qadeem started to speak at the roundtable she did not mention this work specifically. An American man made a point of telling us of her successes. Ms. Qadeem and many others want peace in their country. They are speaking against terrorism and they want to engage us in dialogue.
Traveling to Pakistan to screen a film about the American women’s liberation movement of the 1960s filled my mind with many different scenarios about what would be discussed during my trip. Drone strikes were far from my mind. Yet, I found that they were a main concern of the people I met and I was a part of this dialogue. If peace is our aim shouldn’t we be having more dialogues with the people of Pakistan?
This post originally appeared in Feminist Stories.