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A dangerous debate

Discussion in 'Pakistan's Internal Security' started by Devil Soul, Dec 24, 2013.

  1. Devil Soul

    Devil Soul ELITE MEMBER

    Jun 28, 2010
    +47 / 28,926 / -1
    Owen Bennett-JonesTuesday, December 24, 2013
    From Print Edition
    Most Pakistanis have concluded that drones are illegal, cruel and counterproductive. And many in the west agree, seeing drones as Orwellian weapons that enable the US, UK and Israel (and presumably others will follow) to kill individuals at will, at no physical risk to drone operators and, crucially, with no legal process determining the guilt or innocence of the targets.

    Signature strikes – when the US has targeted people solely on the basis of suspicious behaviour – may have come to an end but the drones are still killing significant numbers of people the US declares to be enemies.

    Given that most of the drones land in Fata you might expect opposition to drones to be the strongest there. And, indeed, there is some opinion polling data and a study on Fata by two prestigious US universities suggesting that people there do strongly oppose drones.

    The survey, conducted by NYU and Stanford, relied on interviews with 69 people from the tribal areas. It sounds like a good start. The interviewees, however, – or at least “many” of them – were selected and transported to the researchers by an NGO, the very purpose of which is to oppose drones.

    And the polls? The first conducted by the New American Foundation in 2010 found that 76 percent “opposed” drones. Then in an answer to a parliamentary question in 2013 the UK Foreign Office (FCO) said it had “supported” surveys which showed that the proportion of respondents in the tribal areas who believed drone strikes were “never justified” had risen from 59 percent in 2010 to 63 percent in 2011.

    Despite being conducted by the same local NGO, the polls had different sample sizes. The New American Foundation poll was the result of 1,000 face-to-face interviews compared to 3,480 for the two FCO polls. In both cases a lack of reliable statistics about the Fata population undermined the attempt to find a representative sample and in the FCO polls it was stated that 42 percent of FATA’s villages were considered inaccessible for security reasons.

    Although the questions asked were slightly different, the 17 percent discrepancy between the two 2010 polls suggests their reliability is at the least uncertain. But then, as anyone who has travelled in the tribal areas knows, obstacles to conducting an accurate poll would include the highly politicised atmosphere in which people are likely to tailor their answers according to whether they most fear violent interventions from the Pakistan Army, the Americans or the Taliban.

    It would after all be unwise to place too much weight on polls conducted in a part of the world in which anyone publicly opposing drones risks being beheaded by the Taliban.

    Earlier this year I spent 10 days in Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar and met over 20 people claiming to be eyewitnesses to drones, others who live in the tribal areas, journalists who operate in the tribal areas (both those with good Taliban contacts and those with better official ones), Pakistani academics who conduct research in the tribal areas, ISI officials familiar with the area, officials who have worked in the Fata Secretariat and political leaders who represent the people there.

    Some told me that a significant strand of Fata opinion opposes drones. One eyewitness to a strike that killed civilians told me he was himself strongly opposed. But a clear majority of my interlocutors said that most Fata residents now support drones. If you accept that I am not making this up it prompts the question: why?

    You don’t have to dig too deep to get the answers.

    When the respondents to the New America Foundation said in 2010 that drones were inaccurate they were right. According to one of the leading monitors of drone strikes, the London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (declaration of interest: I do some work for the bureau), 127 drone strikes in 2010 killed between 874 and 1,058 people including 84 to 193 civilians.

    In 2013, by contrast, the bureau has found there have been 22 strikes killing between 99 and 160 people including 0-4 civilians. Given the lack of transparency surrounding the whole drones campaign these figures are only estimates and the reasons for the lower proportion of civilian casualties is unclear. Possibilities include tighter rules on targeting, the use of drones with smaller amounts of explosives and improved technology.

    And there is something else. There is a growing feeling in all of Pakistan that the TTP can’t be wished away. And in Fata, the place where residents can see the Taliban up close, that feeling is perhaps stronger than in the rest of the country.

    The residents of Fata face some bleak choices. If drones don’t succeed in diminishing the Taliban threat there is the very real possibility of a Pakistan Army offensive which, if past practice is anything to go by, will involve the destruction of so many homes that large numbers of civilians will die and hundreds of thousands could be forced to flee.

    So despite the sovereignty issues, the legal questions and the morality of remote control killing by a country now despised by many Pakistanis, we should not be too amazed if most people in Fata probably support drones.

    One Waziri who told me that he supported drones made the mistake of expressing his view on Pakistani TV. Within hours he was receiving text messages with death threats. The debate surrounding drones is passionate – dangerously so.

    The writer is a freelance British journalist, one of the hosts of BBC’s Newshour and the author of the new political thriller, Target Britain.

    Twitter: @OwenBennettJone

    Email: bennettjones@hotmail.com
  2. Irfan Baloch


    Apr 12, 2009
    +183 / 41,892 / -0
    I applaud drone strikes that take out the terrorists who we could never kill ourselves
    I mourn the collateral damage due to civilian loss of life too

    I dont mourn the lost sovereignty due to drone strikes because Taliban took it away a decade ago from Pakistan.

    drone strikes being counterproductive in WoT is a weak argument , people who made up their minds to justify AL Qaeda and Taliban already appose army operations so they can never be pleased (Jamat Islami , JUI).

    I condemn the drone strikes on peaceful tribal gatherings. specially the one conducted right after Raymond Davis release. that strike was not on Al Qaeda or Haqqanis or Mullah Omar's Taliban but on the state of Pakistan and was nothing else but a mass execution & murder by CIA to teach Pakistan a lesson for arresting their black-ops assassin.

    the civilians in the tribal areas believe in self preservation and rather not openly support the drone strikes in order to keep their heads on their shoulders and not meet the Taliban butchers. the people in the settled areas are clueless and just follow the "in-fashion" "movement" which sees drone strikes responsible for every evil in the past , present and future.

    a US/ Pakistan collaborated drone strikes will be good option, better still if they are conducted by Pakistan through its developed Combat drones. the opponents will loose the "American" element from their opposition and come down to "rented and mercenary Pakistan army" rhetoric, which is still used on our ground, artillery and airstrikes (no sleep lost there)
  3. VCheng


    Sep 29, 2010
    +58 / 33,076 / -4
    United States
    Drones are doing the necessary and dangerous job due to failures of the Pakistani government to control its own territory. Improve the governance and the need for drones goes away.