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“Few things are more inherently un-American than drones”

November 17, 2012

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.