ISLAMABAD, Oct 2: Money should be taken away from the defence budget and invested in education, healthcare, job creation and for the overall well-being of society.

Sounds familiar? Because in Pakistan one often hears discussions regarding military expenditure on a similar pattern but the above mentioned statement was made not by a Pakistani but by an American and about the American military budget.

The speaker, Mary Ann Wright, has traveled to Pakistan under the banner Code Pink with roughly 20 American delegates in order to raise awareness against drone attacks in the tribal areas.

She was speaking at an interactive session organised by Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad.

The session was chaired by veteran diplomat Akram Zaki who wittingly remarked that her name, the spelling ‘Wright’ might be different from ‘right’ but she has come to ‘right a wrong’ done by drone strikes.

Smiling at the comment, Ms Wright first of all thanked the Pakistani press for addressing her as “The Ambassador”. Not “Ambassador” but “The Ambassador”, she said jokingly without realising that as a western reader, she had pointed to a common grammatical error of the Pakistani English press who use “The” unnecessarily at times.

In any case — as she clarified — she had never held an ambassadorial position. In her diplomatic career, she had come close to being Deputy Ambassador in Mongolia. But that was short lived. She resigned when the Bush government decided to attack Iraq.

The Iraq war was a turning point in her life, when she decided to become a peace activist. Like many peace-loving Americans, she thought the Iraq war was wrong and unjust.

One Pakistani participant complained that if her claim is true then why wasn’t awareness raised when America attacked Iraq? One of the American delegates reminded the gentleman that the biggest marches in the history of the western world happened during the recent Iraq war and most delegates present in the meeting had participated in those marches.

And now the American delegates are planning to march towards Waziristan and apologise to the people of the tribal areas for the drone attacks that have killed hundreds of Pakistanis.

On the question of drone attacks,  senior journalist Ijaz Haider said that there is a “paradoxical” aspect, at one place there is the history of world wars, where hundreds and thousands of innocent people were killed and now drone is comparatively a new technology which is more precise.

One American delegate remarked that it is not a question of being precise or imprecise, it’s about the killing of innocent people and it doesn’t matter whether one innocent person dies or hundreds, it’s still wrong.

Another peace delegate said that the concept of precision strikes is wrong. Any human made technology cannot be hundred per cent precise, there is always a margin of error.

One retired military officer from the Pakistani side asked: “What if Pakistan were to shoot down a drone?”

An American delegate replied: “Chances are America would respond violently, first through the media; painting Pakistan negatively and then even attacking Pakistan militarily.”

Another person from the Pakistani side, who hailed from the tribal areas, remarked that his concerns are more local. If there are militants in the tribal area, then who brought them there? Tribal people did not provide a safe-haven to militants.

He added that during the Soviet-Afghan war, when it was decided as an instrument of policy to use tribal people against the Russians, who made those decisions? Because it wasn’t the people of tribal areas. He said even today tribal people are not free to take their own decisions. But then who is taking all the decisions?

Former ISI chief (retired) General Asad Durrani said there is a problem of communication between the two (Pakistani and American) armies. And any solution to the Afghan endgame cannot be brought about without keeping the militants in mind.

The biggest criticism to drone attacks came from Ms Wright who said President Obama is acting like an “Executioner”; how can one decide to kill someone without allowing access to a judicial system. It is illegal and nothing short of murder.

Most Pakistani participants were appreciative of the efforts being made by the American delegation. This will go a long way in diluting the negative image Pakistanis have of Americans.

One participant who was an academic said before this session the word America and peace seemed odd but now he is walking away with a different opinion.

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