In February, Columban Fathers held their first international Inter-religious Dialogue meeting in Pakistan. Columban missionaries, who serve poor and marginalized communities in 15 countries around the world, developed a Plan of Action under the theme “Widen the space of your tent, extend the curtains of your home, do not hold back.” (Is 54: 2)
Inter-religious dialogue was named as “an essential component of Columban Mission.” Nowhere is inter-religious dialogue needed more than in Pakistan. “Dialogue is seen by both religious and secular leaders as a way to build and strengthen relationships at all levels, to prevent the outbreak of conflict and to promote social cohesion. Believers from all the world’s religions face the same issues of injustice, discrimination, environmental destruction and climate change. We need to bring the wisdom of all traditions to bear on these issues so that together we can forge solutions to these pressing challenges.”
Pakistan is the country most severely affected by targeted drone strikes, with the largest number of deaths from drone strikes in the world. Since 9/11, the use of targeted killings and drone warfare by the United States has skyrocketed. The number of actual drones operated by the U.S. military has increased from approximately 60 to 6000, and the number of deaths and injuries has increased nearly as much. President Obama has relied on target killings of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
There has been much debate about the law used to justify these killings, the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress passed just days after 9/11. Since “peacetime assassinations” by the U.S. government were banned in 1976, the debate centers on the issue of never-ending war. The Obama Administration asserts that we are at war with al-Qaeda and its supporters.
We and our partners on the Inter-faith Working Group on War Drones in Washington, D.C. advocate for Congress to repeal the AUMF, to stop contributing to violence, and to turn to the rule of law and civility.
Columban missionaries in Pakistan support alternatives to the violence: Bring those guilty of atrocities to justice in the International Criminal Court; call for a United Nations embargo on arms, military supplies, and funds to suspected al-Qaeda supporters; offer aid and support to local non-violence civil society groups, and mediation for local conflicts; and finally, fully–fund humanitarian aid to the millions desperately in need.
Columban missionaries in Pakistan are ready and able to promote inter-religious dialogue among Muslims and Christians. However, the constant drone strikes have fueled anti-Western sentiments and, casts a shadow over all Christians.
The lack of full disclosure by the U.S. government about targeted killings and drone strikes has made many American wonder if they trust the government. During our legislative visits to the offices of Congressman Peter Welch and Congressman Alan Grayson in October 2014, and Senator Johnny Isakson in February 2015, Congressional staff acknowledged growing concerns about non-disclosed information and the need of the American people to know why and how decisions are being made.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a strong stance on the moral implications of drone strikes. The most pertinent issues are the imminence of the threat, the discrimination of the attacks, the proportionality or probability of success, and the international norms. As first reported in the New York Times in May, 2012, the U.S. government identifies “all males of military-age in a strike zone as combatants.” This method keeps the official count of civilian casualties low. This is hardly discriminating.
We pray for peace and stand in solidarity with all victims of violence, call for greater scrutiny in the use of drones, and support dialogue at all levels.