ANALYSIS: The drone strikes must continue —Farhat Taj\09\18\story_18-9-2010_pg3_4

Wherever military operations in FATA took place, the area has since completely been handed over to the militants and the state’s writ surrendered through agreements with the militants. Sadly, the tribesmen and women have become disappointed in the army and are terrified of the army and the Taliban

The US has stepped up drone strikes in the last few weeks on the terrorists occupying large parts of FATA. Simultaneously, the anti-drone strikes propaganda in the Pakistani media is gearing up and producing misleading opinion pieces as usual. All this media propaganda is far from the truth. Either the media, Pakistani and international that draws on Pakistani media reports, have no clue about the drone-related ground situation in the drone-hit areas or they are deliberately spreading false information. In either case the media is breaching its professional ethics and, above all, misleading people all over the world. I have been challenging such misleading media reports through my newspaper columns and research papers, but the misinformation continues.

The drones hit their targets, i.e. al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, with guided missiles that never miss. The Pakistan Army performs exactly the opposite through its unguided aerial bombardment and artillery firing. The tribesmen compare the achievements of the drone strikes with the human disaster inflicted by the Pakistan Army in FATA. The army has caused considerable collateral damage in the form of hundreds of civilians who were killed, public and private property worth millions of dollars was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced — yet the army never killed any leading Taliban commanders. The drone attacks have led to no population displacements, no loss to public or private property and hardly any civilian casualty ever. It is no wonder then that the people of FATA, especially those in the drone-hit areas, are comfortable with the drone strikes and welcome the recent hike in the attacks on the terrorists occupying their native land.

The people of FATA argue that under the garb of military operations, the ISI had, in fact, strengthened the terrorists. It was during these operations that much of the tribal leadership was eliminated by both the Taliban and military in order to create a power vacuum that would allow them to take over. Wherever military operations in FATA took place, the area has since completely been handed over to the militants and the state’s writ surrendered through agreements with the militants. Sadly, the tribesmen and women have become disappointed in the army and are terrified of the army and the Taliban. The tribesmen and women’s perception is that Pakistani intelligence agencies have no desire to destroy the Taliban in their native land and the terrorists have simply been disappearing from one area only to reappear in another area inside FATA.

Both the Pakistani media as well as the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) are spreading false information about the war on terror in FATA, including the drone strikes, in arrogant disregard to the sufferings of the people of FATA. They both must know that their false propaganda is being noted by the people of FATA. The tribesmen and women may be overpowered by the terrorists and terrified by the ISI, but they know who is misleading the world about the ground situation in their land. The Pakistani media and the ISPR are contributing nothing but disappointment in the Pakistani state and hatred of the ISI in FATA.

It is a matter of concern that even the judiciary in Pakistan is also trying to ride on the wave of anti-Americanism on the eastern side of the Indus River in Pakistan in terms of the drone attacks. Someone petitioned against the drone strikes in FATA in the Lahore High Court and the Chief Justice reportedly said that the “drone attacks were increasing terrorism in the country (Pakistan) by killing innocent people (in FATA)”. This is coming from a judiciary that has no jurisdiction over FATA. The judiciary should show some ‘independence’ to extend human rights to the people of FATA, which have been denied to them as per the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Or perhaps the judiciary simply does not care about FATA, since it does not fall under its jurisdiction, and is merely responding to the anti-American feelings of its jurisdiction, i.e. Pakistan minus FATA. With all due respect, let me say that our judiciary is not famous for ‘messing’ with issues under the monopoly of the military establishment. The unfortunate FATA also falls under the absolute control of the ISI and therefore it is no wonder the judiciary is passing remarks that squarely fit into the ISI scheme of things in FATA.

The worst outcome of the anti-drone propaganda in the Pakistani media is that researchers around the world have been misled. In complete disregard to research ethics, researchers have been producing reports on FATA that are simply baseless or, at best, far from the truth. FATA is closed for independent scholarly investigation due to security reasons and researchers never seem to cross-check Pakistani media reports with first hand information from FATA. They do not even acknowledge their lack of access to the area as a shortcoming of their research. Such researchers include some of the most famous ‘FATA experts’ who travel around the world to educate the world on FATA, its people, culture, history and above all the current security situation.

The researchers, Pakistani judiciary, the ISPR and media, both Pakistani and international, must acknowledge that the anti-drone strikes public opinion surveys that they have been so comfortably referring to depict Pakistani public opinion never included the people of FATA. None of the surveys have been conducted in FATA. As far as I know, the only public opinion survey in FATA about the drone attacks has been conducted by the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, which showed that the majority public opinion in FATA supports the drone attacks.

Meanwhile, the relentless drone attacks on terrorists’ positions in FATA must continue without any break. This is the message of the people in the drone-hit areas of FATA. They believe drone strikes are the most effective strategy against the terrorists in the context of Pakistan’s dubious relations with the Taliban. So the US must keep them up.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book Taliban and Anti-Taliban

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