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I met Todd Shea years ago when he visited me with a guitar and said he was moving to rural Pakistan to convince Pakistanis that all Americans are not bad.

“This requires a spoonful of salt,” I said to myself. “A gora living in a Pakistani village, that too after 9/11, this is not right. There has to be an ulterior motive too.”

But such doubts never bothered Todd. He relocated to Pakistan and slowly but surely, earned the respect and trust of both US and Pakistani governments and above all the love of the people he works with.

As The New York Times pointed out in a recent video story, Todd arrived in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, a disaster that killed 80,000 people, “and never left.”

The hospital, known as the Comprehensive Disaster Relief Services, provides quality healthcare services to the people. CDRS’ efforts are concentrated in Chikar, Azad Kashmir, one of the region’s poorest and most remote areas with 150,000 people. According to NYT’s Adam Ellick, “For decades, the community’s medical needs have been ignored by the government.”

The video opens with Todd singing “Dil, Dil Pakistan” at a community fair, designed to teach the survivors of the earthquake the basics of proper healthcare. He doesn’t have a college degree or a medical background. “I’m certainly not the most qualified person to take on the task of building – in this area at least – a revolutionary healthcare system, but I’m the one who’s here,” he says.

A Google search, which looks old as CDRS has since expanded rapidly, says CDRS employs 38 people. Dr. Rizwan Shabir, who worked with him in Chikar, told NYT he was surprised by Todd’s “casual” appearance when they first met, he thought “if this person can come from America and serve our people, then why not me.”

The hospital runs on $170,000 a year and serves over 100,000 patients a year.

Recently, Todd shared with me a letter he wrote to a high school friend, now a colonel in the US Army. I am sharing it with you because it is as important as the work he does in rural Pakistan, if not more.

He wrote:

“Steven, Congrats on your promotion and thanks for your recent kind words about my work in Pakistan. Although, I haven't seen you in nearly 30 years, I am very proud to know you and see all that you have built and achieved in life.

“I tell my Pakistani friends, every time I have a chance, that those US Servicemen who dishonour their uniform and endanger their fellow soldiers by urinating on corpses, burning Muslim holy books, bullying a weaker populace or intentionally killing civilians are less than 1 per cent. And I tell my fellow American friends the same thing about more than 99 per cent of Pakistanis and Muslims having nothing to do with terrorism – and it's absolutely true for both.

“I am not sure how successful I am in convincing either group who each harbour a lot of mistrust and in some cases blind unthinking hatred of the other. However, since I have lived extensively in both ‘worlds,’ I have found this phenomenon to be absolutely true.

“What has struck me most in my time in Pakistan is the realisation just how much alike all human beings really are at the deepest and most basic levels. Anyone can see it if they exercise enough thoughtful discipline to ignore whatever lies they've been fed ever since childhood.

“I'd love to meet you and your associates one of these days and discuss what I have learned in my nearly seven years living in Pakistan without any security whatsoever. I run around in some of the most dangerous territory in Pakistan without as much as a butter knife.

“I served my country at the foot of the fallen towers on 9/11 and I can assure you that no one hates the handiwork of extremists and terrorists more than I do (and that goes for the evil deeds of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales as much as it does for American Airlines Flight 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta). I would never have risked my life for Pakistanis for going on seven years if I had even the slightest notion that Pakistan was a nation of terrorists, hell bent on destroying America.

“Most everyday Americans I talk with are shocked to learn that 80 million Pakistanis were just toddlers on 9/11 or not even born yet. They are so ignorant about this part of the world that they don't know the most basic information such as if you drove from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego, California, you'd still have to travel another 80 miles into Mexico before you'd cover the same distance equal to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

“I sincerely want you and your fellow soldiers and all Americans to understand that the CIA and others in our country's indoctrinated, hard-core security establishment and leadership have lost sight of the bigger picture. Perhaps they know it and just don't care because the real control of our citizens and the really big money for them is in CONFLICT not PEACE.

“Does the CIA want to ENSURE another 9/11? I ask this question with all seriousness because that is precisely what they are doing (whether they realise this or not is another question entirely for which I don't have any answer for).

“I strongly believe that for every drone attack which kills innocent people (and I personally know that drones have killed many innocent people), more and more simple non-Taliban tribesman and moderate villagers become hardened with rage. They can go across this long, mountainous and porous border with the single-minded purpose to kill American and Nato soldiers in revenge-inspired attacks.

“Drone warfare is not ‘US,’ it's not what we're about morally, it's not the America I grew up believing in and not representative of the America that you and your fellow soldiers have believed in, fought for and died for.

“In my humble opinion, very few things are more inherently Un-American and cowardly than drone warfare. Have we become a nation of cowards? If the SEALS can go get Osama Bin Laden, then why in the world are we engaging in this ugly warfare?

“We need more of you, more engineers, those in the armed forces who build, create, solve complex problems and stop the explosions. We do not need those who set off explosions which ripple through the world forever in concentric circles of sorrow and hate and affect us all in ways that we could never predict or even fathom.

“And we need to use people like you more and in a more effective ways. But your unit of the Armed Forces doesn't need bullets or bombs and thus isn't as quickly profitable for the manufacturers of bullets, bombs and high tech weapons systems.

“No matter what destructive potential and high tech weaponry the leaders of our military forces purchase, develop and possess, the fact is that nothing is more powerful and effective at bringing about peace and security than human to human contact, compassion, empathy and love.

“I am sure that your greatest work and impact happened in those moments when you were personally training the Afghan Army and giving them your time and directly passing on your knowledge so that someday they wouldn't need you anymore.

“The Engineers of the US Army are the soldiers who best understand that we can bomb the world into pieces but we can never bomb the world into peace. I pray for the day when the US Armed Forces will just train, train, train and train some more, and be the #1 force to serve all mankind.

“We are at a crossroads in history. Will the United States of America fall into the same self-destructive trap of arrogance and national narcissism as the former British Empire, the Soviet Empire and other empires that came and then vanished? Will we work for liberty and justice for all and not just for the selfish interests of a few powerful groups and individuals who are driven only by such lowest human common denominators as power, elitism, greed, hatred, intolerance and racism?

“I pray for the day when America’s military might will be used only to advance the interests of the human race, with its chief mission being to respond to future natural disasters, not being a party to the man-made ones.

“May God guide the leadership of the United States of America to always do the right thing and utilise its economic and military power and influence only for justice.

“You will always be in my prayers and please consider me at your service anytime, anyplace.”

--Todd Shea


The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Author Image

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (32) Closed

Bakhtiar Khan Nov 19, 2012 08:27am
Appreciable work Mr. Todd.. This letter should be publish at more n more plateforms. We need more Todds in both countries n ofcourse all over the world who speaks nothing But PEACE..
ZZX-1 Nov 19, 2012 10:39am
What grace and good-will are you talking about? Are you even sane, rational? They are leaving behind thousands of graves, destroyed homes, broken grieving families, widows, orphans, dead bodies, maimed, blinded...murder, rape. Good-will and grace indeed.
Syed waqar alam Nov 17, 2012 06:33pm
Best of Luck Todd.
joe smith Nov 17, 2012 02:37pm
Drone attacks will stop if 1) The Pakistani Taliban stop attacking American troops in Afghanistan. 2) Stop Harbouring enemies of the US. It is that simple. Why should the US stop the attacks otherwise? Now should the US leave Afghanistan, yes. Did we lose,yes.
riz Nov 18, 2012 07:47pm
very well said
Atif Nov 18, 2012 09:48am
Yes Cyrus and thanks very much for not hitting the schools. but no thanks for killing those innocent people who just gathered in a home to attend marriage ceremony few years ago.
Faqi Nov 18, 2012 08:23am
Brilliant piece! Todd's letter deserves much more platforms to spread the long lost message of Peace.
Atif Nov 19, 2012 11:04am
and your logic provides enough reason to kill innocent people right?
ABC Nov 17, 2012 12:27pm
really a thoughtful article for entire humanity and a good solution to keep over world safe from wars and human made disasters.
suethompsontruth Nov 17, 2012 02:05pm
Dear Anwar, I truly appreciate this gift of sharing Todd's letter. It does contain a message for all of us. I am sure you know how touching it is for me. It is very difficult for me to articulate why I choose to shine a light that others choose to block out. Just a little light on the picture lessens the fear we have of the unknown & the true to heart experiences we share build strong bridges between our cultural differences. Communication is a start, showing & sharing affection & understanding of each culture will pave the way for PEACE. Love & light is needed all over the world. Thank you for sharing yours! Inspiring...this post will serve to encourage me to continue to present with photos "A Different Picture" of each culture I am honored to experience. perhaps my images from the heart can encourage someone else, too! Todd is a great example of what a person can accomplish with talent, love & action...together WE can change this world.
G.A. Nov 17, 2012 02:47pm
Fully agree with you. People to people contact is absolutely essential. Unfortunately, the security situation in Pakistan has robbed this country of tourists who are ambassadors of their respective countries and play a great role in removing mistrust.
Taimoor Nov 17, 2012 03:17pm
What a true picture and thoughts!!!................
Cynic Nov 17, 2012 03:31pm
Thank you Todd. This is precisely what Imran Khan has been saying all along as well, maybe it has more of an effect coming from a white American. In any case we as Pakistanis should be grateful and appreciative of such selfless individuals wherever they come from. One such individual is Maj. G. D Langlands a British nonagenarian educationist living in Chitral. He spent over sixty years teaching and running schools in Pakistan. We salute these people and thank them from the bottom of our hearts. May the government also recognize their service, God bless them.
Salman Nov 17, 2012 03:34pm
Todd is awesome !
Atif Nov 17, 2012 03:50pm
Thanks Dawn for letting me know about Todd as I always believed that good people lives in every country and corner of the world.
noman Nov 19, 2012 04:20am
Now this is ridiculous and such people are not letting to restore the piece, get lost from our lands and we will never look at you with bad eyes. but if you are here we will fight you and as our grounds have already been the graveyards of other proudy nations, so it will be for you.
Qamar Mansoor Nov 17, 2012 04:46pm
A very nice effort ...both ends have to have trust on each other ..( Pakistan & USA) but USA being a Super power has to understand the ground realities ..All what Pakistan is right now facing actually is the outcome of, or in other words both of our countries mis-adventured in Afghanistan ..but USA left within no time & left Pakistan alone to face the music ..Still I say like many other Pakistanis that we should not involve ourselves in blame game ..instead right now try to help each other coming out of this mess.. USA has to play a matured role
Ibrahim Shamsi Nov 17, 2012 01:30pm
What a gem of a person. Todd is absolutely correct about people to people contact. I have been living in the United States for over a decade now and can tell all my Pakistani countrymen that the majority of Americans are decent human beings who do not hate Muslims and stand for peace. You really get a good perspective when you actually experience life by inviting cultures.
S. A. M. Nov 17, 2012 01:51pm
Thanks Todd for helping the people of Chikar. Big thanks for letting your people know that majority of the people in Pakistan are peace loving. I salute your courage to risk your life for the well being of the people deprived of the basic necessities. May Allah always protect you and give you success ever after.
NASAH (USA) Nov 17, 2012 02:31pm
Now that Mr. Obama has re-won the presidency for another 4 years during which the Americans are coming home from Afghanistan for good -- and the fact that there is a sea change in the Afghans and the Pakistanis relations in their taking over the responsibility of regional security TOGETHER -- with prospects tripartie talks between the countries and the Talibans -- it is time for the US administration to review the morally questionable necessity of continued use of Drones in Fata Land. If we are leaving and we certainly are leaving -- we must leave with grace and with the goodwill of the people -- not with bitter memories. It is high time to STOP Drones Attacks. There is a pause in drone attacks -- this pause should be made permanent by the US administration.
sattar rind Nov 17, 2012 10:41pm
great contribution from Anwer iqbal besides the Todd who is serving the poor people of pakistan in Chikar. we need this kind of news
Cyrus Howell Nov 18, 2012 12:35am
Pakistanis can have anything they want in Life, including the kind of nation they want. First you have to make up your minds that no one is going to give it to you. Then realizing that the kind of nation you want takes more than just wishing for one.
Sue Sturgess Nov 18, 2012 02:36am
instead of dropping bombs, let the drones spray herbicide on the poppy fields and thereby starve the Taliban of funds
Sue Sturgess Nov 18, 2012 02:41am
If you put a group of young children together, they will always find a way to play with one another. They do not care about race or religion. How sad that the kids learn the prejudices of their parents as they grow up. But I agree, the best way to overcome it is personal contact - eliminates the stereotypes.
Azmat Nov 18, 2012 03:07am
Both US & Pakistan need more Todds & less drones if it is to be a better world for all....Thanky you Todd for what you are doing & thank you for speaking your mind,
Waqas Nov 17, 2012 09:23pm
The same thing applies to majority of Indians and Pakistanis, its high time we start spreading this message instead of divisive notions.
Mustafa Habib Nov 18, 2012 12:53pm
"Not all Americans are bad". - I'd say almost all Americans are good and decent people
muhammadmusa Nov 18, 2012 05:01am
Excellent Human being, deserves all praises. The fellings, views expressed by Todd are very true and food for thought for all of us espacially for those who are decision makers.
Cyrus Howell Nov 18, 2012 12:31am
American drones are not hitting schools in the frontier provinces.
Silk Road Nov 18, 2012 06:28am
Mr. Shea is a real American hero. Folks, this is real America. I slute you.
Umesh Nov 18, 2012 01:14pm
Todd, there is no need for America to use drones if Pakistan lets US soldiers go after the terrorists hiding in Pakistan, or Pakistan gets rid of all terrorists hiding in its territory, and Pakistan stops sheltering and aiding terrorists for whatever reasons. If the terrorists hadn't found a secure place in Pakistan, Afghanistan war would have been won and ended a long time ago.
Naresh Nov 18, 2012 09:49pm
Joe, I think you didn't understand his letter completely.!!!. I am not pakistanian, I am Indian. But what ever he said its true. Even I believe that some of govt people helping these terrorists. it doesn't mean that all Pakistanians doing the goes vice versa to americans.