KARACHI, July 1: “Is the debate on drone strikes on Pakistani soil based on false premises? Are we asking the right questions?” asked curator Neha Ansari on the first day of the exhibition ‘Drone Dialogue’ on Monday.
Organised at an art gallery named Art Chowk, the exhibition, which will continue till July 5, is focused more on discussing the variety of opinions Pakistani and American students have on the use of drones through postcards and letters.
Speaking to Dawn, Ms Ansari said that “the debate on drones never goes beyond statistics, with media in both countries choosing to toe the state’s line in news reports”.
It was to counter this “jingoistic rhetoric”, as the curator called it, that a number of young Pakistani students studying at Tufts University in the US initiated a transnational dialogue on drones. The hall was packed with coloured postcards and letters that students from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and National University of Science and Technology (NUST) wrote to their American counterparts.
What ensued was a number of opinions and incidents shared with each other, at times pointing out the fact that it is the age of “cyber war” and on others disagreeing with the whole concept of drone strikes altogether.
In one postcard, a Pakistani student from Islamabad had written that how “someone sitting thousands of miles away acts as a judge, a prosecutor and an executioner all at the same time”, adding that, “those operating the drones are no better than the terrorists they wish to eliminate”. Right next to it, a postcard written by an American student countered that argument by writing that parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are a “haven for terrorists” thus making the drone strikes a plausible option. The student went on to add that “many Pakistanis feel upset but the Pakistani government has given its approval for these strikes as documented by a number of articles in the press”.
The only hitch with the transnational discussion is the fact that students from LUMS and NUST do not represent all of Pakistan. The curator said that the students were roped in as they could be easily contacted through social networking websites like Facebook while she was studying in the US. Ms Ansari added that it is a travelling exhibition with many plans in the pipeline. “So this is just the beginning,” she added.
A senior political figure, Azhar Jameel, previously part of a political party named, Qaumi Mahaz-i-Azadi, was invited to speak on the continuing use of drone strikes to target militants. Starting off, the slide on Mr Jameel’s left showed the number of casualties caused by drone strikes since its beginning in 2004. It caused (an estimated) 3,500 civilian casualties, 880 of them reported to be children.
In Mr Jameel’s opinion, “Those who want peace in the country need to understand that the real enemy is within. And to counter it we need to get our act together.”
He spoke at length about the military establishment’s role in ensuring peace in Swat valley in 2009 when it was taken over by the militants. He said that the military turned things around in Swat which shows, “that if they want to do something they can do it”.
Speaking about the “two-faced policy” of the US, Mr Jameel pointed out that on one side the US wants to end extremism in Afghanistan and other parts of the region “but on the other it is fuelling extremism in Syria by arming militants in the country”.
Speaking about drones, he said that those who complained about them do not know what the state of Pakistan is up against. “The militants are gaining strength and have a similar mindset when it comes to target its ‘enemies’, the question is, are we as organised as a nation to put out the fire that has engulfed our home?”