Filed under: Digital/Star War, Nonviolence, Politics of Empire | Tags: Afghanistan, conscience, counter insurgency, digital war, drones, Nonviolence, pacifism, robotic warfare
Last week Predator drones attacked in Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan and mistakenly killed civilians. We don’t know how many. The incidents are another warning like the messages of protest that Pakistanis have been trying to send Americans for the past few years. Despite the much ballyhooed precision of these air crafts and their weapons, they still kill civilians because corroborating intelligence on the ground is unreliable and this leads to flawed targeting.
The protection of civilians has been a most basic plank of all notions of just war for many nations going back 1600 years. The slide towards increased killing of civilians in war by national armies and as a corollary, the use of civilians as human shields is often overlooked. Tactics arising from the use of robotic weapons of war may increase the slide of disrespect for civilian life in war. This trend that brought us civilian casualties from Dresden to Hiroshima, from IEDs in Iraq to drones in Pakistan reflect the broad lines of increased disrespect for civilian life into the 21st century warfare in regular and insurgent armies.
During the final week of Lent this year I expect to travel to Las Vegas and to Creech AFB 45 miles northwest where the Predator pilots and their staffs are trained and local control rooms guide the planes in the 24 hour surveillance and attack assignments over Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. As I go I know that the Predators are just a tip of a vast array of robotic technology now being developed to make modern warfare “safer” for soldiers but more lethal for civilians.
The Predator and their Hellfire missiles are the air weapon delivery system of choice right now but maybe not for long. In the future the work of disarmament will be made even more complicated by robotic instruments of all kinds. The U. S. Army is working with universities to build micro fliers, tiny bird like flyers to be used for intelligence gathering and surveillance through its Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology Collaborative Alliance. Joseph Mait, manager of the Army Research Laboratory says,“ Our long-term goal is to develop technologies that can produce a map of a building interior or detect bombs,”
Big unmanned Predator like aircraft have lots of problems. They are still expensive to build, maintain and fly although they are much cheaper than the earlier generations of bombers. They can also be easy to spot. In Pakistan I was told that children in remote areas have games they play called, “spotting the Predators”. Shrinking those vehicles to a few ounces will not only change the children’s games but will give an up-close view of who is doing what, when and where.
According to Discovery Magazine, Haibo Dong of Wright State University is working on a four-winged robot, the Wright Dragon flyer. The designers complain that it is more difficult to create than a two-winged flapping system but promises more speed and manoeuverability. Dong expects to have a prototype, about the size of a real dragon-fly, completed this year. “This small craft could perform surveillance, environmental monitoring and search and rescue,” he says.
At Harvard University roboticist Robert Wood is working on mechanical bee-like instruments to create a colony of RoboBees. These swarming robots will incorporate optical and chemical sensors as well as communications systems to make autonomous flight decisions and to coordinate with colony members during tasks such as searching for objects or people.
Robotic technology is already heavily used in all of America’s wars. As many as 4000 robots are already on the ground in Iraq. Tiny information gathering devices are complemented by robotic instruments designed to identify and disarm bombs. With ground mobility they can enter into dangerous settings where enemy soldiers are heavily armed. Some of these instruments are being adapted for or are already used for in the homeland security. Their phenomenal growth will change forever the arms race, the balance of power(s) in the world and the nature of police work.
The ethical implications of this revolution of arms, force and information gathering are daunting.
1. The development, deployment, and use of the instruments of robotic warfare are being carried out in at least 40 countries around the world. A robotic arms race is already under way. There are few if any forums that address the implications of this race for the future of life on earth and for the quality of life-like basic freedoms.
2. As the robotic arms movement unfolds, the possibility for back yard development of instruments of destruction reaches to the limits of imagination. Violent video games were just a beginning although they may have helped dull our sensitivity and create a culture of acceptance. The IED (improvised explosive device) an interim instrument for defence and attack for insurgents will have been just the first generation of a long line of sophisticated adaptation of off the shelf technology for killing. The distance between the safe researcher silently working in a sanitized laboratory and the field practitioner is narrowing. The absence of meaningful work for so many in this generation may become the void where new waves of imagination in the service of violence are unleashed. Nonviolence movements will match this challenge only with keen understanding of the implications of robotic developments and solid healthy organizations.
3. As civilian casualties grow, persons who believe that life is sacred are faced with enormous new challenges. Peacemakers and human rights workers have only begun to grasp the implications of robotic warfare. People on the ground in Pakistan told me that just 10% of the victims of Predator drone bombings are insurgent combatants. Ninety percent are civilians. The Pakistan Security Monitor, a project of the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University disputes these figures. I have travelled in Pakistan and have heard the estimated 90% figure from persons with access to the areas of impact with accompanying stories of travail and death to women and children..
For Christian pacifists the reach of research, development, and manufacture dips into every one of our communities. We are now faced with new challenges to our convictions about not killing. Unless we face those oncoming ambiguities without falling into legalism, the convictions will morph into fluffy cotton decoration over a core of words that are not backed up with action.
4. As we enter this new frontier of ethics and robotic warfare, our methods of witness for a nonviolent way will be forced to adapt. The centralization of the development and manufacture of killer instruments into fewer and fewer corporations and selected political powers is over. The time is here when ordinary people can go to the local computer store or amazon.com to order component parts for assembling a weapon. What will we do if the computer store owner even goes to our church or parish? What will we do if people in our church own stock in companies that produce the components? We won’t have to go to Washington or to some well-mannered legislative office to begin the discussion and to engage in public witness.
We are now swimming in the culture of robotics, a technology that is being adapted every day by nations around the world to myriad roles that include security and killing. We can watch in admiration or distaste as the magic is unveiled . In periods of transition and unfolding violence it takes a little time for our consciences to be awakened and the gift of stubborn resistance to become clear. The time has arrived.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Blaming the Victim, Iraq, Peacemaker spirit, Taliban, Viet Nam | Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan troop surge, conscience, drones, pacifism, peace, robotic warfare
What is the meaning of the Nobel Peace Prize? Alfred Nobel, Stockholm native and the inventor of dynamite and other explosives was chagrined that his inventions were used in cruel ways. In the late 1800s towards end of his life he dedicated his considerable fortune to those who had made the greatest contribution to humankind. Each year prizes are awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics and peace.
Two sitting American Presidents Woodrow Wilson (1919) and ninety years later Barack Obama (2009) have been presented the Nobel peace prize. Both men believed that they had an overarching role to move history in a more peaceful direction. Wilson was disappointed and died in office. His League of Nations was crippled from non support at home and then burned in the ashes of World War II. We hope for a better outcome for Obama. Former President Jimmy Carter received the prize in 2002, 22 years after he was defeated by Ronald Reagan for a second term. Henry Kissinger accepted the peace prize for negotiating with the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (North Viet Nam) in the early 1970s while B52s simultaneous bombed his enemy. His counterpart Le Duc Tho of North Viet Nam refused to accept the prize. The war continued for two more years after the Paris Peace agreements. Between 1973-1975, another half a million Vietnamese were killed and wounded, 340,000 of them civilians.
President Obama’s eloquent speech accepting the Nobel Prize on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day laid out the necessity of war and ruminated on his nation’s understanding of just war – “war waged as a last resort, or in self-defence; if the force used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.” To his credit he defined what theorists believe is a just war. He did not identify how his administration purports to fine tune war making to meet the criteria of a just war in two big wars, Iraq, according to him a dumb war and Afghanistan, a necessary conflict.
How will those who target drone attacks, and other expressions of air war make certain that no civilians are killed? How will a new chapter in just war be written in the basic training manuals of soldiers preparing for deployment, for interrogation of the enemy, for treatment of captives, and for clean up of military waste? Can Alfred Nobel’s dynamite and its prolific offspring ever be controlled? Will the apparent unlimited use of U S wealth for military purposes bankrupt its citizens as once happened in Rome?
For a century the Nobel Prize for peace has hovered in that space between active peacemaking represented by monumental efforts towards peace and justice like land mine eradication, civil rights, or relief efforts, and the work of nations to create a framework that will constrict war and its effects on civil society. The prize was not primarily intended to celebrate pacifist solutions to war although people who questioned all war and violence like Martin Luther King and Jane Addams received the award. The acknowledgement of their achievements gives hope.
In his speech President Obama deftly distanced himself and his office from pacifist traditions as a President with responsibilities consistent with empire must do. To his credit he did so without the normal checklist of charges of idealism, lack of realism and or even naiveté, a checklist deeply embedded in the pillars of liberal democratic thinking upon whose shoulders his politic relies for ideological ballast.
President Obama didn’t tell us if there are any serious negotiations with adversaries, coalitions of Pakhtoon villages or Taliban groups. In a part of the world where negotiations have been practised for 3000 years it is hard to believe that something isn’t happening to find an end to armed conflict. How is the conduct of the Afghan-Pakistan war creating the context for real peace, democracy or development? The people I talked to in Pakistan are not sure. How will his administration encourage or even mandate the military chaplain corps to become a genuine conscience and moral compass for “just combat” in the field. What about the thousands of soldiers who joined the nation’s forces and, in the process of soldiering, developed a conscientious objection to war? Will they be allowed to get out without having their dignity and personal integrity dishonoured?
For many peace people, church members and third world nations Obama’s speeches on Afghanistan and the acceptance of the Nobel prize despite their eloquence was a time of disappointment. This was the moment when I realized that my long-term hope for ending the practice of war in say a century will require harder more focussed work than ever. I believe I can use this experience as a time to bound forward. The speeches remind me that the Lamb of God with even wider reach in the stretch for justice can overcome the god of empire that imposes chaos and destruction under the guise of democratic order.
The speeches remind us that fundamentalist preachers or pundits are tethered together with the liberal establishment on the question of war. Both stumble through various versions of just war ethics as the Predator drones drag us into a scary future. Above all the speeches remind us of the very limited options that are available to an imperial President in matters of peace and war. This is the moment to pull up our pants, turn off the T V, awaken our imaginations, and listen to God’s spirit of compassion for all human kind, and get on with our work.
Some of us will be called to unexpected sacrifice of time, career, and life itself. The goal of a world without war is worth all of the sacrifice of a great army of unarmed soldiers. This dream of a nonviolent world may be the only realistic vision now, despite the fact that our leaders doff their hats to just war. The renewal of our spirit will come one step at a time in fresh and even larger ways as our spirits are awakened to the politics of renewal and hope, a politic like Jesus himself, that is never dependent upon a president who himself is often powerless to transform an imperial culture that devours good policies and strong words.
The universality of this season’s mantra, “Peace on Earth Good Will Towards People” is a good place to start and it gets the best angels involved. If the mantra is going to bring down the institution of war we better be prepared with discipline and armfuls of imagination infused with love. When we are called idealists we do well to give the realist answer, all of creation is groaning for something better. That is where we will put our energy. Even elder Alfred Nobel might cheer us on.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Detainees, Immagination, Pakistan, Peacemaker spirit | Tags: Afghanistan, digital war, drones, Las Vegas, Pakistan, robotic warfare
The invitation to a gathering of reflection on peacemaking in Las Vegas came several months ago. I was honoured to join the group for a day because the question of how to respond to America’s current wars, its plans for dominance in space and the unfolding movement of robotic warfare challenges all of us, young and old, to think in fresh ways. My time in Vegas would be completed with another adventure in contemplation in the desert sands where Creech Air Force Base trains pilots for robotic warfare.
The collapse of world wide finance and my lack of confidence in the big players may be creating a greater space for imagination. When I complained to one participant, Vincent Harding, that I still have little confidence in what to do he gave me a little pastoral advice from an African proverb. “How do you eat an elephant,” he asked. “One bite at a time.” I left Las Vegas where the demons of irrational luck seem to be in control determined to free up the mirage of powerlessness in my mind.
I am done with letting the big players and gaming machines control the culture. I know more than I have acted upon. Economics is also a matter of spirit. My mind’s deep freeze has kept me from the light within and the possibility of light in my opponents, the people who manage the remaining collapse of a world that takes care of the people who are “too big to fail”. Truth happens in experiments. It is backed by courage and preparedness for the teachable moments. My time in Las Vegas was one of the moments when I was taught.
My wake up call to finance capital was completed in the biggest detention center of Las Vegas. But first I had to go to Creech Air Force Base 45 miles northwest in the desert. I wanted to meet a commander at Creech to discuss the work of Predator I and II, the drones that I heard so much about from Pakistani people when I visited that Muslim country in June. I joined a group of seven. But, as we began to walk along the commercial entry way to Creech AFB we were detained by Clark County police behind a large movable cement barricade. We were placed in the care of military police with heavy belts who pointed their big black guns at us. It gave me a little extended time to think about the finances that pay the bill for Creech.
As we waited in front of the guns to be transported to Clark County Detention Center, two blocks from the Golden Nugget, one of Las Vegas oldest sanctuaries of luck, my colleagues asked me to redeem the time by giving a full voiced report on my recent trip to Pakistan for the benefit of my fellow detainees and our guard – caretakers. With apologies to my friends back in Pakistan for the absence of tea service I was able to represent truthfully some of what I learned about their fears of being the objects of Predator drones and their hopes for an unfolding of justice with peace in South Asia.
By midnight six hours after the pilgrimage into Creech began, I had been fingerprinted several times, questioned repeatedly, tested for TB, had my blood pressure checked, asked if I had recently tried to commit suicide, and I repeatedly spelled and corrected my last name for the vast criminal bureaucracy of the Las Vegas region. Somewhere along the way I was relieved of my shoes, socks, watch, ID, money, and everything but my pants and shirt. Later in the night I was pushed into a 10 foot by 20 foot holding cell where 18 other people were already making some kind of peace or silently plotting revenge at police who had shouted or insulted them on their road to detention.
The sounds of the cell included broad sustained snores, other body noises and loud television, a cacophony that reminded each of us non sleepers that we had reached a peculiar moment of truth. By approximately four am a gruel like slop arrived for breakfast. Most of us could not face the Wonder Bread and whatever else there was. Nausea teased our stomach muscles. The guards had thoughtfully placed a large plastic bag in the middle of the floor and told us to put any left over food that we couldn’t eat or would not stay down into it. “If you make a ‘blankety blank’ mess,” screamed the guard. “You can plan to be in the holding area for two more weeks.”
By the time of my release the second and third “gruelling” meals had come and gone. As those hours passed, I got to know my cell mates. Several had been picked up for the high crime of jay walking evidently a matter of major concern in the city of mostly bad luck. Others were picked up for traffic violations. Everyone except me had some other kind of outstanding legal problem. For several men, simple records had never been updated.
My loss of shoes and socks became a matter of considerable concern since the temperature in the holding area of lucky town is just south of a cool fall day near the solar ice cap. While the street people slept through the fog like another day on the tracks, the rest of us shared our stories.
One man, a high roller was tracked for outstanding debts of $125,000 at two casinos when he was stopped on a traffic violation. A couple calls and he zipped up his $700 dollar shoes and was off to another race. He told me he once won $600,000 in two hours but admitted his career on the strip had lost his family a lot more than he had won. I managed to get a modest applause, enough to wake up the permanent sleepers when I told them I was in for “disturbing the war” at Creech AFB.
Actually I think I got lucky in Vegas because I was introduced to at least two angels in waiting. I haven’t had a chance to talk to them very much yet. You see angels always come to me in unkempt and upsetting ways. First, the angel of unearned and unconscious powerlessness showed up in the gathering to do peace visioning. I will be talking to that angel. The second appeared in both the shouts of the Clark County Sheriff’s officers and in the up close and personal discussions with other detained people. My cell mates were curious about Afghanistan and Pakistan but they also reminded me to watch out for bully behaviour wherever it shows up, in Afghanistan, in Las Vegas police uniforms, on the back streets of Vegas or on Wall Street. I will be having more conversations with this angel too. The light and dark of the desert has gotten me revved up again. I guess that is what a reflection session and retreat is supposed to do. Thanks!
Filed under: Militarism, Politics of Empire | Tags: conscience, counter insurgency, digital war, military contractors, Robert McNamara, robotic warfare
There once was a very smart man who built cars and figured out ways for big organizations like governments and businesses to do things better. He had what a lot of people called a liberal sense of morality towards the world. Many people were liberal at that time. He wanted to do good and make things better, more democratic. He was a good father who welcomed friends of his children into his home even when they demonstrated against the big military system that he supervised.
At the beginning of the reign of JFK, the emperor called him in Detroit where he was making cars. Emperor JFK asked him to oversee the Defence of the Empire. He replied that he was not trained to take on such a responsibility. The emperor told him there is no school that prepares people for these jobs. So Robert McNamara like many people of his time went to Babylon to serve the people with the best intentions. He wanted to do good, make things more efficient, save the people’s money, and create systems where there was a better chance for good decisions.
His country was about to enter a very big war in a little known area of the world, Viet Nam. The country was already locked in a very hot fight that had the strange name, Cold War. When he took up his job as Defence Secretary his generals believed that if that Cold War went nuclear there must be massive retaliation and as much of the enemy as possible should be destroyed. Within a few years he realized that such massive retaliation might lead to a terrible outcome, mutually assured destruction. So he started looking for ways to trim the atomic weapons. Also in the year of our Lord 1963 Robert McNamara ordered the entire defence system to implement Equal Opportunity for All Minorities. Because of the order the military became the most integrated unit in all of the empire, ahead of churches, restaurants, and businesses.
But sadly most of his time went into that old fashioned war at the edge of the empire. He was a loyal servant of the emperors of the time and tried his best to understand the enemy. Despite misgivings he sent 535,000 soldiers and air planes to that distant land to decimate villages, and roads – anything that would kill or destroy the enemy’s spirit. But bombs, chemicals and killing only made the enemy stronger and smarter. One and a quarter million people in that land, more than the population of the capital of the empire, were killed during his time. He travelled to that distant land many times and tried to be nice to the people. Even that didn’t work very well. One time when he left Viet Nam he tried to say “Long Live Viet Nam” in the local language. His tones and accent was severely lacking and what he said was “Viet Nam wants to lie down”.
Robert liked good information. He felt like he failed to understand the enemy so he invented something called counter insurgency, a collection of programs intended to make the enemy like his people and the empire’s other allies. It didn’t work very well. The intelligence people around him couldn’t get the right information. Even if they found information they didn’t know how to separate truth from falsehood. They got into the habit of buying and trading information although they never actually went so far as to commercialize it on Wall Street. Even expensive information was not very reliable.
One time he said, war is “impossible” to win. He hinted that if his country had lost World War II the people who engineered the bombing in that war may have been prosecuted for genocidal destruction. But Robert, like the liberals of his day, persisted despite their troubled consciences. He did not resign his work or speak out except many years later when from hindsight he identified his doubts and mistakes. Many blamed him for defeat. Many more blamed him for overseeing the overwhelming outrage of that war.
His country would not be the same again. The nations of the earth would no longer trust the good intentions of his country’s people. When the war finally ended seven years after he stopped serving the emperor, his country was tired and spent. People did not utter the word, Viet Nam. No one said defeat, not even Robert, but almost everyone knew that they had been part of a dreadful epic fight where something had gone horribly wrong. And the people pushed their pain, confusion and guilt deep inside themselves where it festered and made them sick.
Robert McNamara died this week at age 93 and people are unsure how they should remember him. Some people used to think that the world had set a limit to war beyond which the empire dare not go because of the moral outrage surrounding Robert’s war. But now 40 years later it seems like those limits have not been learned or honoured. Others in the empire, those who wanted Robert to send more troops and bombs, believe that the innovations and organization that Robert brought to war, counter insurgency, military might, tricks of the intelligence community and electronic barriers to the enemy still can make things come out right.
Some people search their belief system, and their confidence in the great myths of the time wanes. In these days like in the days of Robert McNamara a new emperor has been crowned and the people want things to turn out better. They want to believe that they are a special righteous race who deserve prosperity. And the new emperor tells the people what they want to hear. Hope is mixed with warnings and forgetfulness.
The Emperor’s soldiers of the new age are turning to smarter bombs, better missiles, and more intelligent machines called robots. But these don’t bring victory. Others have turned to nonviolence, an old force but newly discovered by those who resisted Robert. Even non-violence is studied for ways it can be used or manipulated for imperial ends. Bits and pieces are borrowed but disembodied nonviolent tactics are lifeless without authentic love, a vision for transformation and conviction behind them.
The Emperor and his entourage two generations after Robert still can not find a way to explain to the world why a big powerful country would pound the life out of very poor people. The enemy is still described as a terrorist. But some people of the world have become wiser and they know the real meaning of terrorist. They use the term terrorist for those who operate the foxy new robotic weapons, missiles and smart bombs in the same breath as surprise attacks from below by people who build road side bombs and use hi-jacked air planes as missiles to destroy great buildings.
The people of the world remain restless about the empire. And at home, out of sight of the great weapons factories, polished floors of lobbyist offices, and defence contractors, all those who live from the fruits Robert’s systems, there are bands of street people and broken lives now made even worse by hard times.
Robert McNamara is about to be buried. An aging street person in Colombus, Ohio limps past the statue of another Emperor, William McKinley assassinated 102 years before JFK. The street person fought bravely for the empire, and remembers the day that Robert sent him off to battle. He curses and talking to no one in particular asks if the lessons from Robert’s time will be buried with him.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Islam | Tags: conscience, counter insurgency, drones, military contractors, robotic warfare
When I arrived in Pakistan May 25 the Pakistani military (617,000 active personnel and 517,000 reservists, 7th largest in the world) was three weeks into an operation in the Swat valley designed to liberate this one time Buddhist kingdom from the Taliban. The upbeat news carefully crafted by civilian-military writers since journalists were not allowed in the area trumpeted the killing of about 20 Taliban every day plus one to three Taliban commanders. The impression then was that the operation would take about a month after which the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons formerly referred to as refugees) would be allowed to return. In the weeks that followed IDP numbers grew from one million to two and three million people.
IDPs from temperate climates now found themselves in sweltering refugee complexes or with relatives in lowland cities where temperatures in the summer exceed 100 degrees. They left behind wheat fields ready for harvest, fruit orchards, schools, universities and a developing economy. Many left hurriedly on orders from the military with nothing but the clothing they wore. Without a massive outpouring of volunteer help from Pakistanis everywhere their situation would have been even more desperate.
But the operation in Swat continues and the daily body count remains constant almost like the body counts of Viet Nam more than 40 years ago where numbers were also manufactured. The decision to move against Taliban rule in Swat came quickly when truck loads of Taliban forces moved into another neighbouring district without warning to enlarge their reach. The Taliban lust for control sent a message to the majority population centers in Punjab and Sindh provinces to the South where there was little love for the Taliban, only a grudging acknowledgement that they are Muslims too. Suddenly in May of this year Pakistani people who had been engaged in questioning drone attacks and the American influence rose up to pressure its own military to stop fiddling and clean out the truck bombers, suicide missioners, and Taliban utopians.
Swat is a land of unusual natural beauty that is populated by Pashtoon people, an ethnic group of some 42 million people that occupy the harsh mountains of western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. The Pashtoon people are unified by a Persian related language that has many dialects among is various tribes. The Swat Valley begins about 100 miles from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad and rises towards the Hindu Kush mountains to the north. Swat has many village names that date back to the Greek influence when Alexander the Great made his conquering and pillaging trek across Asia.
Despite its size the Pakistan military is ill prepared for the kind of war it faces in Swat Valley or the other boundary areas of Pakistan. For sixty years all of Pakistan has sacrificed to build its military for the purpose of defeating India in Kashmir and if necessary on the Punjabi plain. To complement this overwhelming threat the Pakistan military sought to defeat its enemies on its west frontier like the Soviets and the Soviet successors in Afghanistan through proxie armies and guerilla forces of various persuasions but unified under the label Taliban. In 2001 when the Americans decided to go after Osama Bin Laden it turned out that he was considered a important guest of selected Pashtoon tribes. Local custom dictates that tribes care for and protect their guest with their lives.
The Pakistani military has been reluctant to abandon its carefully nurtured asset, the Taliban. In Swat and other border areas Taliban check points and operations were often coordinated with the Pakistani military. The fact that Taliban were Muslim brothers, allbeit militant activists was not necessarily troubling to military commanders. In fact when some military groups were ordered to attack and kill Taliban, selected officers resigned because of their conscientious objection to killing Muslims. During my recent visit I was told of soldiers killed in battle who were not honoured for their service when their bodies were returned to their native villages because they were killed in war against Muslim brothers.
This history of the Pakistani military and the current nation wide engagement over the question of what it means to be a Muslim nation, brings us to the present. The United States government has set aside 736 million dollars to build a new fortress embassy and refurbish its consulates in Pakistan because of the deteriorating security situation. The US has also targeted $400 million for counter insurgency assistance for Pakistan this year. And, the US has announced its intention to provide $1.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan for the next five years. Even for the US government which has gotten into the habit in Iraq of throwing around money very casually this adds up.
It suggests a absence of confidence that the Swat operation will be completed in one or two months that in fact it will go on for months, maybe years. It is a monumental commitment for a nation like the US that is not particularly distinguished, experienced or successful in countering insurgency. Right now Washington is happy because they think they have finally gotten the Pakistan military to start fighting the real enemy, the Taliban.
These are dangerous times. We now face a situation where a nation of 175 million people is engaged in a major violent internal struggle for its existence. Every week if not every day there is a car bomb somewhere. Questions of development, education, and nutrition will have to be put off longer while the rupees and dollars buy hellfire missiles and better guns. How will Pakistan weather this violence and threat over time? There is not a deep residue of confidence in Pakistan about American advice because of the inconsistent and sporadic nature of US aid and reliability over the last 60 years. The regional conflict which also includes Afghanistan is now Obama’s war and it could destroy his administration if things unravel as they might.
Pakistan is gifted with a layer of South Asian wisdom and I was the recipient of some of that during my recent visit. Some of these voices will probably be silenced and imprisoned in the coming months but their spirits will endure. Our work on this side is to find ways to lift the veil of secrecy. This situation is complex but complexity should never deter us from working through the fog to the pull towards authentic reconciliation. Most of all Pakistan needs space to sort out its own priorities and determine how Muslim convictions can energize it into the future. Another quirky US green zone, Marine guards, civilian contractors, and advanced digitized security gimmicks in a Muslim country will do little to give space for this to happen.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Politics of Empire | Tags: counter insurgency, drones, robotic warfare
The most recent drone attack was at 4:30 am. Everyone came to the house that was attacked then they had to be dispersed because often there is a second attack after the first one. Several missiles are used. In this attack 22 days ago there were 14 women and children killed as well as two elders. Another 11 people were injured. The villagers had to carry the injured five kilometres by mountain trail to a road where they would try to hire a taxi or whatever transportation might be found. Since the army was present in the distance the man with the taxi was reluctant to carry the wounded be cause he feared that his car would be destroyed.
We are told that the drones come to hit the Taliban and Al Quida but mostly it is women and children and the local civilian population who are hurt. Our people want to go to Afghanistan to attack the armies of the people from abroad. All the foreign soldiers are the same. We must take revenge.
When the attacks occur we do not have sufficient emergency response available. The closest hospital may be 10, 20 or 40 kilometers away. And even if we can get the victims who are alive to that hospital they must be transferred to Peshawar which is another very long drive. We use whatever we have available to cover wounds. Often the women’s burkahs are used to cover the wounds.
The Pashtoon are a people who believe in revenge, individually and collectively when they have been unjustly attacked. An unjust attack is one that is unfair or violates common law, custom or dishonours the tribe on the village.
We believe in the jerga system (and respect our elders meeting in council) who discuss what we should do as revenge. But we also believe there should be an end to revenge. We see the drones on a daily basis. Sometimes they are very high. Usually they attack at night or early in the morning.
Every time there is a missile attack from a drone our area is sealed off so that no one can come in to mourn with us and no press can tell our story.
After the missile attack people come for prayer, mourning and to share the sorrow. Of course they come from our village but they also come from the entire surrounding area. The rituals for the dead and the burial are carried out over three days. The story of the the disaster missile attack spreads by word of mouth throughout the region as far as Peshawar. When people get the news they always say, we must do something. But what can we do? Our government is not doing a thing? It seems helpless? They are just helping the Americans. Our local political administration tell us that they can’t help either. Â Our local jerga (local council of elders) is helpless against drones.
Some people in our village have left Pakistan.
Our children tell each other, we should not play together because maybe we will be attacked. They know that drones need to have groups of people in order for the missiles to be fired. So they scatter.
People gather the casing from the missiles. How could anyone do such a thing as this? It took me a day and a half to travel here in order to meet you. My people believe in revenge. We also believe there might be another way to solve this. You must come and sit with us. But you cannot send soldiers to talk to us. We will never trust your soldiers. The Americans have turned out to be worse than the Russians. If you come to us we can talk about another way. Thank you for listening to our story.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Digital/Star War, Getting on the Way to Peacemaking, Iraq, Politics of Empire, War and Poverty | Tags: counter insurgency, digital war, drones, Human Terrain Systems, Human Terrain Teams, robotic warfare
From Viet Nam to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan a lot has changed. But some days I am surprised at how much has not changed in the approach to local people. In the absence of tools sometimes called weapons to win hearts and minds the military has turned in two directions, higher technology, and social research.
It is hard to get people to talk candidly with you about their goals, dreams, hopes and personal problems when you carry a gun. Well actually I don’t know this for sure because I have never carried a gun. But I have learned that conversations don’t go very far in villages when I enter accompanied with soldiers or if there is suspicion that I am connected to soldiers.
Modern warfare usually incorporates something called counter insurgency. An insurgency is a rebellion as in an armed movement against foreign invaders or their own government. Those who carry out insurgency usually fight with sticks, rocks, guns, and the forced or willing cooperation of the local population. Unless the powers that be kill everybody, break everything and completely cut off water and food the insurgency usually grows. Building schools, passing out candy or even building irrigation systems doesn’t usually change things fundamentally because the favours, funds and fountain of development helps one side in the community but makes those sides who do not get anything even madder. The battle is called winning hearts and minds. The notion of getting to the heart awakens the imagination to a love affair. You get to the mind through the heart. Thinking right requires consent of the heart.
To get hearts and minds headed in the right direction imperial armies and their coalition partners, local and international, need to know very precisely who leads the enemy so that they can be killed. The CIA was set up to track down the necessary information but very quickly in its history it was derailed to perform operational duties, carrying out secret attacks that could not be traced at least not right away. It takes dangerous and often gruelling decades long work to get good information. Reliable information is called intelligence but in the real world of agency intelligence the product is not always based on intelligent facts because no one was able to assemble reliable facts. So short cuts are needed like analysts who are supposed to be good at reading the signs or what use to be called tea leaves.
I learned this first in Viet Nam when occasionally I met well groomed American civilians – my age or only slightly older – swaggering through wherever I happened to be. Sometimes we would have relaxed conversations during which each of us tried to figure out what the other knew. It took me months and years to realize that these folks were working from a very different framework than the one that I was learning from villagers. At first I thought I was just naive, and unable to read the signs. Later I realized that these folks were not listening to the same people I was. Still later when I became convinced that the war in Viet Nam would come to nothing good, I lost confidence completely in whatever template the smart well dressed civilian contacts seemed to put forward.
From Viet Nam to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan a lot has changed. But, some days I am surprised, at how much has not changed in the approach to local people. In the absence of tools sometimes called weapons, to win hearts and minds the military and its operational partner, the CIA has turned in two directions, higher technology, and social research.
Unmanned vehicles (drones) now circle the skies of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan with precision cameras scoping out targets and precision laser guided missiles ready to release their terror at the push of a button from command room pilots and staff thousands of miles away. Hired informants, some of whom are double agents on the ground may suggest targets. These attacks in Pakistan have caused a furor among Pakistani people. The US Defence Secretary’s budget this year calls for spending $2 billion on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, with much of the money going to drones.
Complementing the drones, digital warfare’s current crown jewel, is another innovation, Human Terrain Teams (HTT), unveiled in 2005. HTT are as radically low tech, as Predators and other robots are high tech. The teams incorporate professional anthropologists, other social scientists, linguists and analysts, who are assigned to forward area units. The civilian and military HTT team members who advise commanders may or may not carry weapons. The researchers talk to and listen to the local population to understand power, conflict, and grievances so that responses both developmental, relief, and military may be wisely targeted, timed, and conditioned for maximum effect. The use of anthropologists has brought warnings from their professional association. The first ethical responsibility of an anthropologist is to “do no harm.”
Some Human Terrain Team members report that the hardest part is overcoming the suspicion of being part of the American military – no surprise to development, relief, and human rights workers or unarmed peacemakers who carry out their work in militarized zones. This year 40 million dollars more was added to the US defence budget for Human Terrain Teams.
Part of me is sympathetic to a military commander who is usually left to his or her elementary instincts in relating to a local population. I have never felt that I was sufficiently knowledgeable or listened enough to local people when I travelled in peacemaking work. Admittedly, I had a little less to contend with than the soldier. I wasn’t as encumbered by the confining traditions and culture of combat and enemy talk. But let’s face it basic survival instincts are common to all of us who work under life threatening situations.
Will the Human Terrain System work? We’ll see. Probably not! Insurgencies of all kinds have a lot of control over the initiative. Insurgents can figure out how to influence Human Terrain Team members. Interviews can be finessed. Local culture can be tilted to encourage attack on an intertribal or intra tribal enemy A good researcher should be able to sort the truth from the wasted words. But can they? There is little that is reliable fact in a war situation where the first victim is truth itself.
If social research gets to the truth why have there been so many disputed bombings in Afghanistan where so many civilians have been killed? Is the problem cameras from above, analysis or social research. The analysing industry will grow. Human Terrain Teams will become part of the lexicon of war like psychological operations units, civic action officers, special forces and other specialized units that someone once thought would change everything and make those elusive hearts and minds more accessible and manageable.
This leaves me with other kinds of peacemaking, the kind without uniforms, drone protection from the sky, a culture of enemy talk and personal arms. I may not have complete confidence in Human Terrain Teams but I believe peacemakers and development workers too can deepen their capacity to listen to and enlarge cultural understanding too. Peacemakers are not engaged in a contest over control of hearts and minds. The only victory is peace. The sounds and visuals along the way give encouragement and hope. Peacemakers believe that the seeds of peace already exist. The point is to have eyes to see the signs, ears to hear its cadence and a voice to talk it out. In the absence of enough unarmed civilian peacemakers if Human Terrain Teams can help this to happen I will be the first to celebrate.
“I tell you,” he (Jesus) replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)