‘We want the world to know that Pakistan is a peaceful country’
Heads turn in embarrassment, voices get lower and strategic significance is waved around whenever a public figure speaks up about US drone strikes. Former Federal Minister Julius Salik aka J Salik is probably the only human rights worker in Pakistan who has launched a protest against these strikes. Salik believes CIA backed US drone strikes in tribal areas have brought a bad name to the war against terror.
“The drones are striking against the sovereignty of Pakistan. It is killing more innocent people than wanted terrorists and it violates the borders of Pakistan,” said Salik with his face painted black in protest against the drones.
Since October 23, Salik’s protest in the federal capital of Islamabad has mourned the innocent lives lost in these strikes. Both his protest and the strikes continue unabated.
The impacts of US drone strikes on innocent civilians have come into the limelight once again in recent events. Rafiq Ur Rehman and his children appeared before the US Congress to plead their case. The children voiced their protest against the killing of their 67-year-old grandmother in a US drone strike. She is now amongst hundreds of other civilians killed in drone strikes designed to target high value terrorists.
Salik made history again by protesting the strikes in Pakistan. The recent protests have a dual impact since Salik, as a champion of minority rights in Pakistan, is also mourning the worst terrorist attack on Christian minorities in the history of Pakistan.
Last month, two suicide bombers targeted a church in Peshawar killing more than 78 people including women and children and injuring over 100.
Salik appeared in Islamabad protesting against the drone strikes, maintaining his unique way of protest, with ash, soot and mud all over his face and hands trying to get the attention of media pundits all over the world.
“We want the world to know that Pakistan is a peaceful country and we do not want to be targeted like this. The UN should take notice of human rights violations in the form of drones,” said a determined Salik with a protest placard in his hand.
Salik’s style of protests are always unusual. He once hung himself on a huge cross to protest the increasing killings of civilians, especially children, in the Iraq war.
On another instance, he sat in a cage to protest against the war in Afghanistan. He also wore an outfit made of jute for over 12 years to express solidarity with the massacred Muslim families of India and once put ashes on his head to protest against the desecration of Islamic scriptures by an American pastor.
His extraordinary endeavours seemed to have no limits or bounds, as he disconnected the electricity to his home and stands united with the residents of slums, who were forced to leave their homes in Islamabad. Salik also brought camels into his living room to protest against the action of the government.
Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, J Salik donned black robes for more than a month to protest against the killings of Muslims in Mindanao, Philippines. He also addressed a crowd for 16 hours straight in Lahore and at another time spent months without saying a word.
A true example of courage, hope and conviction, Salik has touched a topic that is marked as the most sensitive in Pakistan. Drone strikes are responsible for the turbulent relations between Pakistan and the US. Recently, the leaders of the two states met in Washington DC, where Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on US President Barack Obama to stop such attacks.
There are constant claims and denials of any progress on the issue from both sides.
Drones have been deemed illegal and a criminal act by Transparency International, and the likes of Salik all around the globe have raised their voices against the attacks in Pakistan’s Tribal areas. His struggle marches on as drones continue to hover around Pakistan’s blue skies. The latest in the list is the drone strike in Miranshah area of Pakistan early on October 31 that killed 3 people.