' The News' reported 687 civilians have been killed in 60 drone attacks. There is no information on how the authorities quoted in report collected the figures. The said authorities fail to provide names of the victims. Also, the authorities have not been able to produce relatives of those 687 ‘innocent civilian’ victims
Almost two years ago Aryana Institute for Regional Research Advocacy, AIRRA, conducted first-ever public opinion survey, in FATA, on the US drone attacks in parts of FATA[i]. The survey contradicted the wide-spread mediatized that the FATA residents begrudge the drone attacks as drones target the civilian. The survey generated heated discussions in media and research circles. Many dismissed the survey findings in disbelief, others with disgust. The rejectionists were mostly the people having no direct access to FATA. Still, the rejectionists seemed to believe that their perception of FATA was the reality and the rest was a lie.
Two years down the road, at least two independent researches, one byMatthew Fricker, Avery Plaw and Brian Glyn Williams[ii] and the other by Shahid Saeed and Awais Masood[iii], have concluded what the AIRRA survey claimed: the drone attacks are accurate in hitting the militants in FATA and the number of the civilian casualties has been greatly inflated by media reports. This is a welcome development in research and I hope that more researchers would show their ability to see beyond the media fabrications about the civilian deaths in the drone attacks inside FATA.
This leaves us with the issue of the public support of the drone strikes in FATA. All the media and research reports about the drone strikes being unpopular in FATA, are baseless. I have been challenging these assertions through my research papers and newspaper articles. I would encourage the researchers to do independent research on the FATA public opinion about the drone attacks. In this regard I wish to draw their attention to a few points.
Direct access to people of FATA
Due to an utter lack of security, an access to FATA may be dangerous. But FATA tribesmen and women live as Internally Displaced People, or IDPs, all over Pakistan. The researcher may contact them in safer places in Pakistan. They, however, need to keep in mind that even outside the Tribal Area, the FATA people feel threatened and reluctant to openly express themselves. The target-killings of tribesmen showing the courage to challenge the dominant narratives on the 'war on terror' in FATA is a fact. This is an ethical challenge and the researchers need to develop special methodology to ensure security of the respondents as well as gathering honest information from them.
Evidence in support of drone attacks
There is enough evidence in the public sphere that should caution dedicated researchers and journalists against uncritical acceptance of the notion that the drone attacks are unpopular in FATA.
Armageddon in Pakistan is a book written under the pseudonym, “Khan”, due to security reasons. The writer is a Pakhtun from Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province (KP). Khan’s book depicts happy sentiments of people of Bajaur Agency about the drone attacks. The writer of can be accessed by the researchers, although he is usually very careful about who he should meet owing to security concerns.
The AIRRA survey itself is an indication of the positive public view in FATA about the drone attack. Like any survey in the world, this survey can also be subjected to a scientific scrutiny.
Moreover, there are also international media reports that depict a positive public opinion in FATA about the drone attacks[iv]. The Pashto-language radio, Mashal, based in Europe has aired many reports showing that people in FATA welcome the drone attacks.
The Peshawar Declaration, unanimously adopted by 1000 activists and notables from FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, publicly supports the drone attacks. Researchers and journalists may reach those 1000 people, many of who have direct access to the drone- hit area.
Amn Tehreek is an umbrella group of various individuals and civil society activists from all over FATA and Khuber-Pakhtunkhwa. The Amn Tehrek publicly opposes Taliban and Al-Qaida, denounces the 'strategic depth' madness, demands the military to conduct targeted operations against the militants in FATA and supports drone attacks. The Amn Teherek has expressed such views almost every month in its socio-political activism. Mainstream Pakistani media largely ignore them. Leading activists of the Amn Teherek are well known public figures at least in the Pakhtun areas. The researchers can also access them for ground information about the drone attacks.
Critical approach to Pakistani media reports
The activists and intellectuals of FATA and KP, who monitors Pakistani media, question the credibility of many Pakistani reporters who have been frequently reporting on FATA. They accuse media persons of distorting the image of Pakhtun areas to peddle theories that suit either the military establishment's view or right wing Islamist ideology. A journalist, Farooq Sulehria, writes in an analysis of the domination of pro-Taliban journalists in Pakistan:
‘also, a fact hardly known outside of Pakistan is domination of pro-Taliban journalists and columnists over country's media outlets. Ridiculed by left and liberal circles as Media Mujahedeen, these journalists and columnists distort the facts, misreport or slant the news, and employ all the dirty tricks of the trade to build an opinion in favour of Taliban. Also, like any other country, many known journalists are cat's paw for Pakistan's secret services[v].
The Journalists’ promotion of the Taliban or the military establishment’s view is especially true in case of FATA. Most Pakistani media reports about FATA do not reflect the reality of the area. An example of how Pakistani reporters misinform on the situation in FATA can been seen in report of The News dated 10, April 2010:‘60 drone hits kill 14 al-Qaeda men, 687 civilians’.
Quoting some unnamed Pakistan authorities the report informs that 687 civilians have been killed in 60 drone attacks. There is no information on how the authorities collected the figures. The authorities have no writ over Waziristan, which is under the control of the militants. Moreover, the said authorities fail to provide evidence in terms of names or place of residence of the victims. Also, the authorities have not been able to produce relatives of those 687 ‘innocent civilian’ victims. Such information has not been provided till this date.
The report was widely and uncritically quoted in media and research around the world. The report, the latest research conducted by Fricker, Avery Plaw & Brian Glyn Williams and Shahid Saeed and Awais Masood, show is fabricated. The point that I want to make is that researchers need to be very critical of the Pakistani news reports about FATA and NWFP.
Humanitarian perspective on FATA
The key reason why there is so much denial of and even disgust of any notion that FATA public supports for the drone attacks is that everyone seems to look at this issue from their own pre-determined perspective. Any evidence of the tribesmen and women’s support for the US' drone attacks is an anomaly for the pro-Taliban or/and pro-military establishment media of Pakistan. Thus they tend to reject or ignore any such evidence. For the left-wingers in Pakistan, a FATA public support for the drone strikes is a misfit in their ideology of ‘American imperialism’. There is hardly anyone who seems to be ready to assume a humanitarian perspective.
Unlike the wider society in Pakistan, Taliban and Al-Qaida terrorists control the tribal society in FATA. Tribesmen and women of FATA have suffered much more at the hands of the terrorists than people of any other region of Pakistan. Even human rights organizations, both Pakistan and international, have failed to documents the full range of human rights violations in FATA at the hands of both the militants and Pakistan army. For example, in my view, no human rights organization has documented a list of hundreds of people target-killed all over FATA since 2003. The media narratives in Pakistan simply do not take into consideration the countless human sufferings in FATA at the hands of the militants and the army. Nobody is giving importance to the fact that the state of Pakistan has abandoned its tribal citizens to the brutal religious militants.
People of Waziristan have confirmed that women and children of the Taliban and Al-Qaida have been dying in some of the drone attacks. They do not rule out the possibility that more children and women of the terrorists may be killed in future attacks. But, they put in my opinion a very realistic perspective on this possibility. ‘This is a war, not game and in wars innocent people do die’, they argue. Available options for the people of FATA are harsh. Either they condemn the drone attack for the sake of women and children of the militants and let them continue to slaughter the tribal people, including women and children, or ignore the deaths among the militants’ families and welcome the attacks because they precisely kill the killers whose hands are stained with the blood of countless FATA tribesmen, women and children.
It is in this context that contrary to the wider public pinion in Pakistan, people of FATA welcome drone attacks and want the Americans to continue hitting the FATA based militants with the drones till their complete elimination. I know all this because of my close association with the area. Same is true about Amn Tehreek, those who passed the Peshawar Declaration as well as the Pakhtun journalists working with radio Mashal. I would encourage the researchers and journalists around the world, who care for professional standards of their work, to also get to know the FATA people’s support for the drone strikes through their investigative skills and direct access to people from the drone hit areas.
[i] ‘Drone Attacks- a Survey’, The News, 5, March 2009. http://criticalppp.com/archives/26239
[ii] ‘New Light on the Accuracy of the CIA’s Predator Drone Campaign in Pakistan’, Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 41. http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=37165&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=7&cHash=cdd658051e
[iii] ‘Demystifying the Drone’, Daily Times, 27 October 2010. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\10\27\story_27-10-2010_pg3_5
[iv] For example, ‘Drone Attacks Stoke Debate In Pakistan’, http://www.rferl.org/content/Drone_Attacks_Stoke_Debate_In_Pakistan/2192324.html
[v] ‘Reporting ''war on terror', by Farooq Sulehria, 26 Feb 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com. Available at: http://www.newageislam.com/NewAgeIslamWarOnTerror_1.aspx?ArticleID=2508