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PORTSIDE  October 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE October 2012, Week 1

Subject:

US Women May Stage Hunger Strike in Pakistan in Anti-Drones Protest

From:

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Date:

Wed, 3 Oct 2012 21:58:11 -0400

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (143 lines)

US Women May Stage Hunger Strike in Pakistan in Anti-Drones Protest

Code Pink activists gathered in Islamabad ready to join march led by Imran Khan into tribal region bordering Afghanistan

By Jon Boone
Guardian (UK)
October 3, 2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/03/us-women-pakistan-code-pink

Islamabad

Not content with a planned march into one of
Pakistan's most dangerous regions, a group of
middle-aged American women are considering
mounting a hunger strike outside the US embassy
in Islamabad as part a campaign against CIA drone
attacks in the country.

Thirty-five activists from Code Pink, a US anti-war
group, have gathered in the Pakistani capital this
week as they prepare for an unprecedented march
and political rally in South Waziristan, one of the
semi-autonomous tribal areas on the Afghan border,
which is a hotbed of Taliban militancy.

Despite intense publicity surrounding the event,
doubts persist over whether it will be able to take
place. Local authorities have expressed strong
doubts about the safety of the march, even though
the Pakistani military has long claimed its
operations in the area have brought a semblance of
security.

Medea Benjamin, the veteran activist leading the
Code Pink delegation, said: "Frankly, it's a win-win
situation for us, whether we get into Waziristan or
not.

"We are going because we are challenging the
Pakistani government to allow us to go to a place
that has been off limits but needs to be seen. And if
they try to stop us, it will be clear they do not want
the world to see what is going on there."

On Tuesday in Islamabad, the women met retired
generals, ambassadors and even a former head of
the notorious military spy agency Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI), and discussed other tactics to
publicise their cause.

Those included mounting a hunger strike outside
the US embassy in Islamabad. Benjamin said the
group was still considering the idea.

"It was something a couple of members of the group
brought up, but we wanted to wait until we got here
to see how appropriate that might be," she said.

There was also a lengthy discussion about whether
Pakistan, which publicly decries the drone
campaign despite signs that it continues to give tacit
approval, should attempt to shoot down US drones
in its airspace.

On Wednesday, the women met people from North
Waziristan who said they were victims of the US
drone campaign, having lost relatives to missile
strikes by the remote-controlled planes. They will
also hold meetings with Pakistani and US
government officials.

The group includes Mary Ann Wright, a former US
diplomat and army colonel who condemned her
country's covert drone campaign as Barack Obama's
"personal execution device", in reference to the US
president's weekly meeting at which he is reported
to choose targets for missile strikes.

The march, led by Imran Khan and his Pakistan
Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, is due to take place this
weekend. Organisers hope to spend Saturday night
in a town outside the tribal areas and then move on
to Jandola, just inside the border of South
Waziristan, where they will hold a rally.

The Taliban have given mixed signals over the
march. In August, a spokesman said Khan would be
targeted because he is a "liberal", but other reports
have said the Taliban will support the march.

Supporters say Khan has been assured by General
Ashfaq Kayani, the head of Pakistan's army, that if
they go to South Waziristan they will remain safe.

The ambitions of march organisers have already
been significantly downgraded. The original hope
had been to travel to North Waziristan, a far more
dangerous area rife with militants drawn from
across the world.

The vast majority of drone strikes take place there,
and the Pakistani army has almost no influence
over the tribal area, where they have long-resisted
US calls to mount military operations.

Nonetheless, although Jandola is in a relatively safe
part of South Waziristan, all of the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have been off limits
to foreigners since the tribal belt became a
sanctuary for Taliban groups fighting against Nato
troops in Afghanistan and Pakistani government
forces.

Few politicians have dared to campaign in the area.
If successful, the march will cement Khan's position
as a pre-eminent opponent of the US drone
campaign.

Code Pink, which originally formed to oppose the
second Iraq war, claimed its anti-drone campaign was
still in its infancy. Benjamin said: "When it comes to
drones, we are at the very beginning of turning public
opinion against them in the US."

___________________________________________

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