The General Officer Commanding 7-Division, a two-star major-general, has said on record, speaking at a briefing in Mirali in North Waziristan, that “many of those killed in drone strikes are hardcore elements” and that “a sizeable number” were “foreigners”. He added that “there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists”. According to the officer, between 2007 and 2011 about 164 predator strikes had been carried out and over 964 terrorists killed. Of those killed, 793 were locals and 171 foreigners. Under US President Barack Obama, 2010 was the deadliest year, with the attacks leaving more than 423 terrorists dead.
The officer in charge of troops in North Waziristan has given reasons why Pakistan doesn’t like the US policy of drones: “The attacks have a negative fallout, scaring the local population and causing their migration”, bringing law enforcement agencies under pressure.
The statement is, however, an important rebuttal of the claim made by a part of the media: That the drones mostly kill innocent Pakistani tribesmen. Here, a distinction must be carefully recognised: Those killed are mostly local people but they fall in the category of terrorists. The tribesmen killed were mostly ‘not innocent’ and were considered as fighting for al Qaeda. Yet the tribesmen who gathered in Islamabad some time ago as ‘victims of drones’ all claimed to be innocent and strengthened the stance of the Islamabad government against the drones.
Once again, a distinction will have to be made between the terrorist tribesmen, who possibly did not come to Islamabad to register their protest and, those who lost their dear ones as ‘collateral damage’. Not even the Americans deny this collateral damage. The soldiers of 7-Division, who are valiantly fighting foreign and home-grown terrorists and their local henchmen, know very well who the bad guys are. They are certainly less influenced by the anti-American propaganda than the rest of us are.
Since the media in Pakistan is free — but not without its biases — a lonely voice of dissent about the drones has been raised too. The Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA), a thinktank of researchers and political activists from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata has contested the ‘official’ view that drone attacks are harming Pakistan. The AIIRA teams visited areas in South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Kurram Agency in 2009. The teams handed out 650 structured questionnaires to people in these areas. The questionnaires were answered by 550 respondents (100 declined to answer) from professions related to business, education, health and transport.
The following replies were received: Do you think the drones are accurate in their strikes? Response: ‘Yes’ 52 per cent, ‘no’ 48 per cent. Do you think anti-American feelings in the area increased due to drone attacks recently? Response: ‘Yes’ 42 per cent, ‘no’ 58 per cent. Should the Pakistan military carry out targeted strikes on members of militant organisations? Response: ‘Yes’ 70 per cent, ‘no’ 30 per cent. Do militant organisations get damaged due to drone attacks? Response: ‘Yes’ 60 per cent, ‘no’ 40 per cent. AIRRA drew the following conclusions: “The popular notion outside the Pakhtun belt that a large majority of the local population supports the Taliban movement lacks substance. The notion that anti-Americanism in the region has increased due to drone attacks is rejected by this survey. The study supports the notion that a large majority of the people in the Pakhtun belt wants to be incorporated with the state and integrate with the rest of the world.”
The fact is that Fata has been an ‘ungoverned space’ within Pakistan for a long time. The state has been drawing its non-state actors from this area for its covert wars. The area has been left undeveloped and foreign terrorist organisations have entered Fata and are using Pakistani territory for attacks across Pakistan’s borders, which greatly damages the legal ground for our demand that drone attacks be stopped. If we are so against foreign drones targeting the militants, we should be prepared to do this job ourselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2011.