Friday, April 3, 2009

Logic of drone attacks

Daily Times

Friday, April 03, 2009

EDITORIAL: Logic of drone attacks

A US drone attack in Orakzai agency has killed 12 recruits of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) of Baitullah Mehsud, including one local leader. An Arab too has been killed while the family of the man providing them haven, Maulana Gul Nazir, was the only "collateral damage". The press links the US attack to Baitullah Mehsud's challenge that he was going to attack Washington again. The drone's target was Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitullah's close contact and local commander of the TTP training centre.

Since the media in Pakistan is formally against the drone attacks, efforts were made on several TV channels on Wednesday night to get the anti-drone stance of the public confirmed. But all Pashtun reporters covering Orakzai refused to give the drones a blanket stamp of disapproval. Asked why Orakzai was attacked if it was not geographically linked to Afghanistan, the answer was: it was attacked because it had become a stronghold of the TTP and foreign terrorists since the last one year and was clearly seen as a threat by the Americans as a training resource for those who attacked across the Durand Line.

This meant that since one year Orakzai has been open as a possible stronghold of the terrorists while the media has been concentrating on Swat, Bajaur and Mohmand as the region of TTP challenge where the Pakistan army is supposed to be taking action. It was discovered that the local Orakzai population had given in after the slaughter of their anti-TTP "jirga" last year did not evoke much response from the army or the state of Pakistan. Added to the TTP dominance of Kurram Agency, a whole swath of territory in the tribal areas was now ruled by Baitullah Mehsud. Orakzai, where the terrorists plied special vehicles stolen from NATO supply caravans in Khyber, was the base from where TTP commanded the NWFP city of Hangu where the Shia are made to live like a hunted minority.

When asked if the drone attack in Orakzai will provoke the local population into becoming anti-American, the Pashtun reporters told the TV channels that unless collateral damage became widespread enough to include the local population, there was no chance of an anti-American feeling. They said that the population was completely under the despotic rule of the TTP and would actually want the drone attacks to continue to lessen the severity of TTP control on them. Had Pakistan any sovereignty left to counteract the TTP, the local population would have fought against the terrorists.

This evidence weakens the argument we have heard advanced against the American drone attacks. A Peshawar-based NGO has come under pressure from the authorities and the media for discovering exactly what was revealed by the TV reporters on Wednesday night. The Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA) published an article recently (The News, March 5, 2009) which stated that its teams visited Wana (South Waziristan), Ladda (South Waziristan), Miranshah (North Waziristan), Razmak (North Waziristan) and Parachinar (Kurram Agency) and found that the victim population was not opposed to drone attacks.

The AIRRA teams handed out 650 structured questionnaires to people in the above areas. The 550 respondents — 100 declined to answer — were from professions related to business, education, health and transport. The following were some of questions and responses of the people of FATA. 1) Do you see drone attacks bringing about fear and terror in the common people? (Yes 45%, No 55%). 2) Do you think the drones are accurate in their strikes? (Yes 52%, No 48%). 3) Do you think anti-American feelings in the area increased due to drone attacks recently? (Yes 42%, No 58%). 4) Should the Pakistani military carry out targeted strikes at the militant organisations? (Yes 70%, No 30%). 5) Do the militant organisations get damaged due to drone attacks? (Yes 60%, No 40%).

One thing is certain: the local population is against the TTP and doesn't mind too much if the Americans take it out in the absence of an adequate Pakistani response. The Pakistani stance that its sovereignty is being violated by the drones is weakened by the day by the very clear loss of Pakistan's sovereign territory to the TTP and the inability of the state of Pakistan to either recapture it or come to the rescue of the local population. The "external" argument that this lost territory brings the world under real threat of terrorist attacks through the local and foreign terrorists also gains strength as Baitullah Mehsud extends his violence-based emirate to Punjab and Sindh in the coming days. *




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