As a foreigner visiting Pakistan, this weekend's protests in Peshawar against U.S. drones remind me of prior Pakistani calls for sovereignty and independence.
On April 23, 1930, British troops opened fire on peaceful Muslim protestors in Peshawar in a vigil to gain their independence from British colonial powers. Eighty years later, the struggle for self-determination and democracy continues and is now a national theme for a country besieged by external interests.
On April 23, 2011, Pakistani women and men from around the country launched a national nonviolent movement to stop the U.S. from using drone bombs on their country.
As an American visiting Pakistani colleagues working for peace, I am meeting with college students, media personalities, religious leaders, businessmen, construction workers, doctors, lawyers and NGOs. In every single conversation about the prospects for peace in Pakistan, two issues come up: the civilian casualties in U.S. drone strikes and the perceived double standard of justice for Raymond Davis who allegedly killed a number of Pakistanis and bought his freedom, denying justice to the families of the victims.
Pakistan is a diverse country of different ethnic groups, religions, moderate and conservative political voices. A call for the U.S. to end its campaign of drone bombings on the country unites them all, even the Pakistani parliament.
Pakistanis ask, "Where is the democracy the U.S. preaches? By ignoring the call of the vast majority of Pakistanis to stop the U.S. drones, the U.S. makes it explicit that it only cares about its own interests, not the interests of Pakistanis."
Then they note the drones are not even in the U.S. interest -- for they destabilize the country. Most people feel caught between Taliban violence and American violence. For those working for peace, they say U.S. drones policy here just adds fuel to the fire.
The pages of Pakistani newspapers are also full of criticism of U.S. drones, offering full coverage of the Peshawar protests. The Editor of the International News in Islamabad writes "Every drone strike in which innocent lives are lost ... deepens the well of resentment. The drone strikes play directly into the hands of the very extremists they are supposed to be targeting and are seen by a battered public as cruel aggression."
The editor concludes, "Americans [are] creating a giant storage battery of extremism." In "The Costs of Drone Strikes" written in 2009, I outline the many reasons both Americans and Pakistanis lose and suffer from U.S. drone bombings. Yet the Obama Administration has increased the use of drones in the last two years.
Imran Khan, former cricket player and respected political figure, is leading the protests against U.S. drones. If the drones do not stop in the next 30 days, Khan calls for a full-scale national people's movement to blockade all ports and roads delivering supplies to U.S. forces heading to Afghanistan.
Moderate and progressive urban elites and rural, conservative tribal elders are joining his call to unite Pakistani civil society around their collective struggle for self-determination using their rich history of nonviolent protests.
Muslim Pathan leader Bacha Khan preceded Mahatma Gandhi in his nonviolent struggle against colonialism here in what is now Pakistan. His work for peace based on the Pukhtoon tribal culture and Islamic teachings about bravery, courage and respect continue to influence Pakistan society. Some here say this historic Muslim leader of nonviolent social movements may also be inspiring those using nonviolent protests in Libya, Bahrain and Egypt.
The values of civility and nonviolence have a long history here in Pakistan and people's movements here are not a new phenomena. South Asia has a long tradition of nonviolent movements that mirrors those documented in "Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization, and Governance in the Middle East."
The challenge to the West is clear. The U.S. cannot preach democracy and stability on the one hand but then deny the majority of voices here that say the U.S. drones themselves are destabilizing this country.