Pakistani sports legend protests US drones

As part of a growing anti-American sentiment, Imran Khan has called the US attacks "immoral and insane."

Pakistani Army soldiers along Afghan border 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Pakistani Army soldiers along Afghan border 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anger within Pakistan towards the US drone bombing campaign is growing.  This week, former Pakistani cricket legend Imran Khan led a high-profile peace march to draw attention to mounting civilian casualties.  Now a politician, Khan has traded in his cricket bat and pads in order to build a national political movement.  His political party, Tahreek-e-Insaf (or Movement for Justice), organized a convoy of 1,000 vehicles to travel to Waziristan, in northwest Pakistan, along the Afghanistan border.
Although Pakistani troops ultimately stopped the peace march just short of their intended goal, Khan and his convoy attracted significant global attention.  The Obama administration’s drone program has caused significant loss of life in this tribal region, with innocent locals suffering disproportionately.  Khan has called the attacks immoral and insane, as well as being largely counter-productive.
A handful of international protesters, including some Americans, were among those participating in the two-day motorcade.  Opponents of the drone strikes have labeled them war crimes and violations of international law, in addition to potentially fostering more anti-American extremism as reports of collateral damage continue to circulate.
Pakistan is in a precarious position.  President Asif Ali Zadari is facing mounting protests from Pakistanis over the growing body count.  At the same time, however, Zadari continues to work with Obama to maintain the strikes, in the hopes of stopping the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants who remain active in Waziristan.
At his sporting prime, Khan was famous around the cricket-playing world, a sex symbol who eventually married the daughter of a British billionaire after having developed a reputation of being a playboy.  Now living in Pakistan, he has given up those trappings of Western success to become an influential politician.
Although supporters claim he has the potential to eventually become prime minister, Khan has his critics.  He is seen by many as a secular, liberal politician who is bring Westernized sympathies into Pakistan’s political debates.  The Taliban has spoken out against him and his peace march, and others have labeled the convoy a simple election stunt designed to get his political party better positioned at the ballot box.  Khan’s PTI party is up against the two more established parties and will need to make significant gains before the upcoming elections in order to take control of the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, the political discourse in the US remains largely unaffected by the drone program.  Obama reportedly reviews each week the “kill lists” of those scheduled for extra-judicial assassination.  The Nobel Peace Prize winner reserves the right to pardon or condemn each person on the list.  Drone strikes are also a feature of Obama’s policy in Yemen and Somalia, where they allow the CIA and other US forces to inflict significant damage without risking the political unpopularity that comes with American casualties.
Despite international concerns over these controversial attacks, domestic opposition has been almost non-existent.  Other than an awkward condemnation from former Obama’s Democratic predecessor, Jimmy Carter, few leading figures on the left have spoken out.  Although many men and women once filled the streets in protest against the prior Administration’s military policies, Obama’s use of drones has received no significant criticism from the previously vocal anti-war movement.
Of course, it is an election year.  Obama is wrestling with a surprisingly close contest against his opponent Mitt Romney.  Although the drone attacks represent a significant step beyond what was contemplated by his Republican predecessor, the massive rallies, vitriolic protests and impassioned demands for war crimes tribunals that were a recurring feature in the last decade have been surprisingly absent during Obama’s first term.
Could it be that many on left are more concerned about purely domestic issues, such as marriage equality, reproductive rights and DREAM Act-style amnesties, than they are about whether the Obama administration is killing innocent civilians in breach of international law?
Given the anti-war movement blind spot when it comes to Obama and his “Drone Age” policies, it is hard not to infer that, despite their moral rhetoric, far too many of the peace crowd choose their fights based on partisan political priorities, rather than sincere belief in their cause.
A cynic might argue that Obama shouldn’t be held personally accountable for this policy, or even if he were, the election of Romney to replace him would only somehow increase the death toll.  Such easy retorts are inadequate and demeaning to the ideas that underpin democracy.
The reports in the media of Obama’s personal administration of the drone program show a clear and detailed picture of how the weekly “kill list” is prepared and reviewed and approved by the President.  Supporters of this approach can simply cast their ballots in its favor come November.  Opponents, however, are faced with the much harder choice.
Those who feel like Imran Khan that the deaths of innocent civilians require them to clearly and loudly voice their concerns do not have the luxury of simply closing their eyes and wishing it away.  They have a choice to make.
For those who say the consequences of letting Obama lose the election are too great to imagine, there is one consolation.  Were a Romney administration to continue the drone attacks after inauguration day, the American streets will be quickly filled with marching and chanting and sign-waving, as the anti-war machine finally kicks into gear.
The writer is a commentator who divides his time between the United Kingdom and Southern California. He has appeared on CNN, CNBC, BBC and Sky News, and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Economist.