In Pakistan, where the undeclared US war continues to expand, armed fighters attacked a convoy carrying military vehicles for NATO forces in Afghanistan, torching fifty trucks, killing seven, and injuring another seven. Last week, a senior United Nations official formally asked the Obama administration to halt or scale back CIA drone strikes on alleged militant suspects in Pakistan. For a perspective on what US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan looks like on the ground, we’re joined here in New York by longtime activist Kathy Kelly. She just returned from a trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where she met with those she describes as “the impoverished and war-weary.” [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The US-led war in Afghanistan is now in its 104th month. It’s become the longest war in US history.
At least forty people were killed and seventy-seven injured by a suicide bomb attack on a wedding party in southern Afghanistan on Thursday. On Wednesday, insurgents shot down a NATO helicopter in Helmand province and killed four US soldiers. Meanwhile, in neighboring Pakistan, where the undeclared US war continues to expand, armed fighters attacked a convoy carrying military vehicles for NATO forces in Afghanistan, torching fifty trucks, killing seven, and injuring another seven.
Last week, a senior United Nations official formally asked the Obama administration to halt or scale back CIA drone attacks on alleged militant suspects in Pakistan. In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said US secrecy around the drone program is undermining international law.
PHILIP ALSTON: Because this program remains shrouded in official secrecy, the international community does not know when and where the CIA is authorized to kill, the criteria for individuals who may be killed, how it ensures killings are legal, and what follow-up there is when civilians are illegally killed. In a situation in which there is no disclosure of who has been killed, for what reason, and whether innocent civilians have died, the legal principle of international accountability is, by definition, comprehensively violated.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for a perspective on what US policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan looks like on the ground, we’re joined here in New York by longtime activist Kathy Kelly. She just returned from a trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where she met with those she describes as “the impoverished and the war-weary.” Kathy Kelly is coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Kathy. It’s good to have you back. Talk about what you found.
KATHY KELLY: Thank you, Amy and Juan.
In Pakistan, there were people who were holding out hope that a budget that was going to be passed, which has been passed since I returned to the United States a few days ago, might make some possibility for them to feed their families. And in fact the money went to increase salaries for the police, for the military. But there will be millions of people very, very disappointed and among the newly destitute in Pakistan.
So when the United States had earlier said, “Do more,” you know, it seems as though we’ve turned the country into a poorly paid mercenary used again and again as a proxy for fighting for United States’ national interests. But what about the interests of people that are beaten down by terrible poverty? This was one reality that was certainly evident when we went last year at about this time, and there were 3.5 million new refugees who had been displaced from their homes by military offensives. And now, no journalist is allowed to go into the areas around North and South Waziristan. There’s not really much knowledge about the conditions amongst people who have been displaced.
And also, you just get maybe twelve words about every drone attack and the presumption on the part of the United States that anybody who lived in any proximity to somebody the United States thinks might be a militant deserved to die. Well, why would a child deserve to be mutilated or killed, just because he or she is living with the mother and the father and the grandparents and the rest of the family?
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what did you — what were you able to notice in terms of a change since your last visit to Pakistan, in terms of the conditions of the people that you were able to talk to?
KATHY KELLY: Well, I mean, one thing that was obvious to me was that the last year when I was there, people were very, very cautious, saying, “Oh, you can’t possibly go anywhere near that area. No, you can’t go there.” And while it’s true that no one can go in the areas closest to North and South Waziristan, I think people have been so traumatized, so accustomed to the random impact of bombings in their cities, that they just said, “Oh, yeah, take the public bus.” There wasn’t that kind of anxiety or caution.
I also felt that the “load shedding” — is the word that’s used to refer to the electrical outages — it’s worse this year than it was last year. And this has taken its toll on people. Just, for instance, the textile industry can’t function if their factories are closed down with eight hours’ loss of electricity every day. And so the numbers of people that are jobless, homeless, and out on the streets and willing to demonstrate, which is very risky to do in a country with so much military control. But we spent a long time sitting with the Pakistani Clerks Association, who were out demonstrating. They were in their third month. Students were in their tenth day of demonstrating, saying that they had all been summarily dismissed from their jobs, and what would they do? So this, by no means, is coalescing into something you’d call a revolution, but the pressure is on from in every city. In many different quarters, people are saying that they can’t continue like this.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the big IMF aid package that Pakistan got, talk about that and the strings attached to it.
KATHY KELLY: Well, the main string is the value added tax. People are already paying 15 to 17 percent sales taxes, and now, on top of that, a new tax. It’s less evident, but in fact people are quite aware of what the consequences are going to be, and so there are many, many protests against that. And repeatedly, people said, “Just tell the IMF to go, tell the World Bank to go.” But, of course, they don’t have much of a democratic representation. And the military in Pakistan controls the sugar industry, the textiles industry, pharmaceuticals industry. They’re huge land owners, and so it’s very difficult to negotiate for something that the military doesn’t want, and of course the military is in conversation with the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute left, but how do Pakistanis and people in Afghanistan view President Obama versus President Bush?
KATHY KELLY: Tremendous disappointment. I think that in Afghanistan people don’t want their invaders to be dictating their future in collusion with the warlord agents that are people that they haven’t been able to control. But I think there was some hope that President Obama would initiate a readiness to negotiate, to look for peaceful settlements, and not to continue to send more and more armed soldiers into their midst.
AMY GOODMAN: Final thoughts that you want to leave people with, as you’ve just returned, that you didn’t get from the media in the United States before you left?
KATHY KELLY: Well, the United States is at war against a people who have meant us no harm, and they are the ones who are bearing the brunt every single day of a war for which we are responsible, for which we are paying. So it must become part of the discussion within the United States. And as Juan mentioned, we’re now looking toward the ninth year of warfare against Afghanistan. People deserve negotiation and peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, thanks so much for being with us, coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.