We are not supporting Imran Khan. In our own minds we see he’s supporting us. That’s our perspective
Anti-war activists Joe Lombardo and Judy Bello were in Lahore on October 10 for a talk organized by the Labour Party Pakistan and Punjab Union of Journalists. Between their various engagements, including participation in the Malala’s vigil held outside of the Lahore Press Club, the two sat down with Viewpoint to discuss their participation with Code Pink in the anti-drone peace march organized by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The candid 20-minute discussion included several critical issues surrounding the war, drones and activism. Read on:
Overall how would you describe your trip to Pakistan and do you think you achieved the impact you intended? What was your approach towards activism? Was your goal to get out there to connect with people or show solidarity?
Judy: I think that we accomplished a lot. We did a lot of different things and that’s the way I like to operate. Medea Benjamin who actually put this trip together was focused on getting a lot of information out through the press. I think that’s her number one interest – to try to move the government through the press.
As I said we did a lot of things. We went to think tanks, two to three hour discussions. In Karachi Joe and I talked to a group of college students and before Joe came we had a meeting with college students. I think they were military universities but there were law students so that was one aspect of it. Our visit got headlines in several Islamabad papers everyday so that was good.
When we talked to victims of the drone attacks we traveled by bus to Waziristan, to the people there. Before I left the United States, I wrote four articles and a lot of other people wrote articles. Beyond that I have tons of information to take back.
The trip itself was incredibly moving, seeing people line the roads and knowing that we were maybe an hour behind Imran Khan. They could have gone home if PTI was all they cared about. Many people had received threatening messages so they kept the curtains closed on the buses in many cases. I set my curtains back and had my head covering on. Every time we passed a town or village, there were people on the road, more in some places than in others. Many people had children with them. They held up peace signs right until dark. This was very moving.
When we arrived we had a somewhat chaotic evening. The next morning, we made the decision not to go the rest of the way to the border because the police had it blocked. Basically those people who did go got kind of trapped there because of the barricades. So rather than be in that vulnerable position we decided to have big rally there.
So the next day you decided that you hold a rally there rather than go to Waziristan?
Judy: We were in Tank but we were not at the border yet. We were at this huge compound owned by three brothers. There were at least a thousand people in the audience so Medea gave a speech. We stood behind her with our banners - there were maybe thirty of us.
While she spoke people in audience shouted, “Welcome, welcome” and then they chanted, “Give us peace, give us peace.” I have this on my clip and will take this back with me. I was shooting the people instead of her face. I had her voice because it was right in front of the speaker, but I had their faces.
I will take this back to the United States because the sad truth is that everyone is terrified on both sides.
Criticism arose from the liberal quarters throughout the country regarding the peace trip to Waziristan. I suppose my question is, “how are the liberals in Pakistan different from the liberals in United States?”
Judy: Well first of all the liberals over here are in the middle of the issues. In other words the liberals over there have a fairly abstract understanding of what’s going on here. The news coverage of direct events in Pakistan is very limited and they are sheltered from international realities of US behavior.
Are they pro-war?
Joe: There is another thing I have noticed over here. Liberals in the US who were part of the anti-war movement are all against the drones, flat-out type of thing. Liberals over here qualify their opposition to the drones slightly because they see them attacking the militants up north; they think this a way to get rid of them.
In the US we would say that those drones crossing the borders are a violation of the self-determination of the Pakistani people. It’s their space, their territory, their dignity and we have no right to do that. We know that it is very much connected to the war in Afghanistan, which we are opposed to.
There are some people we spoke to here who are against the war but don’t make that connection either. I think it’s important for anti-war activists, liberals and activists in general in Pakistan to take a stronger stance against the drones.
Judy: I agree with what Joe just said. I think we have an issue with terminology for one thing. I don’t consider myself a liberal, I consider myself a progressive. I am not a socialist either. I am not of any specific political stance because I don’t know of a political solution that I believe will work. But what I think Joe is talking about are progressives or fellow-progressives.
How do you think governments have been able to use fear to legitimize the war? On one hand the CIA’s antics are well documented. These are some of the same sort of covert operations that killed Che Guevara. The other lie is here in Pakistan, where the ISI has been involved in various antics as well, but nobody is willing to speak out about it?
Judy: Liberals in the US in many cases are ambivalent, even about the war. They are ambivalent because they have been shown a very dangerous world. It goes on and on. The US was founded on the genocide of the native population in our country. That’s the bottom line. When I look at Israel, I think they are trying to duplicate that but they don’t quite have the clout to make it happen because there are more indigenous peoples than them.
The US is deeply embedded in British colonialism. Although we seem to have separated from it at an early point with regard to our own territory, in fact what we have done is follow-up and adopt all their strategies and policies in some form or other.
So I think there is a huge discrepancy between what the West really stands for; the values it stands for in terms of democracy, freedom and what we really are. I love many of those values but in practice there all kinds of other scenarios that support those values as well but they don’t make any more mistakes than we do. They just make different ones. So as progressives we need to take these stands. That’s why I only pay attention to what Imran Khan’s party stands for as a whole. Because right now, I feel strongly about this particular issue and if that’s the person who provides the possibility of going there then I will take it.
How important is it to oppose the drones in terms of the war?
Joe: One thing the drones do is to allow for the expansion of the war. So we have expanded the war into Pakistan through the drones. And that’s interesting because Pakistan is supposed to be our ally and yet we are bombing Pakistan. If we did not have those drones and we tried to bring US troops across the Pakistani border or carpet-bomb with airplanes or something like that it would be viewed as egregious due to the loss of American lives. The fact is you do not lose American lives with these drones. Their use allows the US to threaten war everywhere around the world. It makes the expansion of war simple for the US. The US is at war all over the place, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then we are looking at Syria, or maybe Turkey as a proxy to go into Syria, Iran and many other places.
We have seen several movements emerging in response to the financial crisis in the form of the Occupy movements. Do you see global change taking place in opposition to the wars since the occupation began?
Joe: Well there is change in the US population in its attitude towards the war. In the beginning of the Afghan war a majority supported it. Now approximately 70 percent are opposed to it. I think Occupy represents a radicalization taking place in the US. I think it is taking place worldwide in opposition to neo-liberal policies and austerity. It has taken place in Greece, Egypt and then Syria.
Judy (interjects): It was one of the focuses and reasons why Syria blew apart.
Joe: As I said I think there is a radicalization going in US and worldwide. People have to connect the dots- the austerity programs, the privatizations that go on, the need to get certain minerals including oil and then the wars. That’s where all those things come together. When people do that it can represent a program for social change.
One last thing, questions have arisen on the part of the local leftist parties and activists regarding the decision to embark on a journey with Imran Khan in relation to the drones. His political record has seen him primarily hold alliances with right-wing religious parties. Do you feel this was counterproductive to the ultimate goal?
Judy: First of all, I am not so sure we are supporting him. In our own minds we see he’s supporting us. That’s our perspective. Maybe, politics is not the bottom-line in the current scenario because among the mainstream parties we can agree with none of them regarding their platform. We are willing to work with anyone who is supporting our platform. In the US we have issues with a guy name Ron Paul. Truthfully I have said to myself he will be the last straw when it comes to the economy but honestly I would probably vote for him if he would stop the wars. I don’t think you can solve your internal problems until you do that.
Again, you have to weigh the issues because so many of the so-called liberal leaderships, not the people, but the powerful who call themselves ‘liberals’ are lying. They are just plain lying. An honest conservative is easier to deal with than a lying liberal. Its very tough call but when we go we have our own agenda.
The Author is a journalist who blogs at tigerali.wordpress.com and tweets under the username Sherakhan46.