Bombing not working, Pakistani students say

As innocents killed, people turn against U.S. in anger

CROSSING THE DIVIDE<br>Diana Parks is the university official managing the visit of 11 Pakistani students to Chico State. As much as the students are challenging American assumptions about Pakistan, she said, their own assumptions about America are being challenged.

Diana Parks is the university official managing the visit of 11 Pakistani students to Chico State. As much as the students are challenging American assumptions about Pakistan, she said, their own assumptions about America are being challenged.

Photo By Katie Booth

A bride wakes with the sun, too excited to sleep. Not even the war that rages daily in her backyard can intrude on her happy vision of her wedding and the feast that will follow as her old life meets the new.

What she does not know is that she will not see the sun set on that day—that a bomb will end her life and shatter the happiness of her loved ones before the day is through.

This is just one of many such incidents described by members of a group of Pakistani students residing, for the moment, in Chico.

Many Butte County residents have been reading Chico’s 2008-09 “book in common,” Three Cups of Tea, about an American man’s mission to build schools in the remote parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, some have found their assumptions of Muslims—as extremists, violent, anti-modern and oppressive to women—seriously challenged.

The assumptions of these 11 Pakistani students at Chico State University are also being challenged.

They are surprised to find, for instance, that they like Americans. That while American policies may seem monstrous to them, the American people are not monsters.

The students arrived in Chico on Jan. 17 for a six-week visit as part of a developmental program of the Federally Administered Tribal Area in Pakistan. FATA is the mountainous, semi-autonomous region bordering Afghanistan that is the site of much of the current trouble.

The students are in the “pilot phase” of a program that has sent 22 students to the U.S.—11 to Chico and 11 to Kansas.

The Afghan Taliban cross the border into Pakistan every day, seeking shelter in the FATA and increasingly asserting influence there, and remnants of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden, long ago took refuge there.

As America attempts to rid Pakistan of these individuals by using unmanned Predator drones and missiles to bomb Taliban and al-Qaeda hideouts, all in the region are at risk, the students insist—as is the stability of Pakistan, a fractious, unsteady nation that has a large stockpile of nuclear weapons.

It doesn’t take long to realize that one can learn more about the FATA from these students than from any American news program. The students, however, are nervous about talking to a reporter. To protect their anonymity, the CN&R agreed not to use their names.

“These students, they are afraid of names … because there is a threat … with the U.S. over there,” said Diana Parks, director of the school of Graduate and International Studies at Chico State, who is administering the visit.

Hatred for America is such in that region that, while it is quite obvious that theirs is an academic mission, the Taliban could think they were spying for the U.S. government or brainwashed, one man said.

They just want to tell their stories.

They talk of a place that is home to “peace-loving, law-abiding and family-oriented” people, but also a place of great unrest.

“Before 9/11, despite no set government, if you had ever gone to FATA you would have felt full security,” one student said.

Pakistan has long been marred by economic and political turbulence, but life began to seriously deteriorate after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Now, the students say, the people in the FATA wage a daily struggle to survive the onslaught of a country that claims to be an ally: the United States.

U.S. bombs kill hundreds of innocents for every criminal, they charge. “Bombs and bullets haven’t got eyes,” one man said. “They kill people indiscriminately.”

The dead include family members and friends. One student’s house was burned down. Another’s 2-year-old, 3-year-old and 6-month-old cousins died.

Their daily lives, they say, are filled with the noise of battle. Of blasts that shake the ground and rock the walls of homes and schools. “Please get me some cotton so I can put cotton in my ears and be able to sleep,” said one.

It is no wonder there is such a hatred for America: One person crosses the border from Afghanistan and a whole village is bombed, one man said.

The students have their own ideas as to what would be effective in this situation: increased border security, an improved economic situation, direct pleas to Pakistan’s government to get rid of the Taliban. Bombs should be the last option.

America is creating more enemies than it is killing, one student said. If a person’s entire family is killed in a missile attack, and he is uneducated, and has spent all his life in those mountains, “What do you expect him to do? Come to Chico State? Study?”

But the Pakistani visitors appear to have found some common ground. In just two weeks, their assumptions about Americans have undergone a “radical change"—a credit to all Chicoans.

“They came very skeptical of the U.S. and its people,” Parks said. But they have discovered Americans are peaceful.

The word Islam, the students said, means “peace.” After spending a few weeks in Chico, they have determined that “Americans are all Muslims,” a surprising claim for anyone.

The students have hope the bombing can stop. As one put it, “America was attacked only once. Afterward, America started attacking every single day, many countries.”