Friday, 12 March 2010

Research: some Pashtuns welcome drone strikes

An article in the most recent edition of the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor offers an unusual perspective on the drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal territories, suggesting that a small sample of Pashtun students were strongly in support of them.
Author Farhat Taj, a Pakistani journalist and PhD. Research Fellow at the University of Oslo, interviewed 15 Pashtun students at different colleges throughout the country. Each interview lasted between one and two hours and each one of the interviewees came from a different village in Waziristan.
Due to security fears, none of the students agreed to a tape-recorded interview, but all allowed the researcher to make written notes during the interview.
Despite the small sample, the results of Taj's interviews are revealing. The students were unanimous on the fact that the Taliban have completely taken over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), especially North and South Waziristan, saying that this had happened with the help of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and Punjabi militants from organisations including Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi etc, as well as foreign fighters, including al-Qaeda Arabs.
The students held the militants responsible for:
• Damaging their culture and traditions.
• Eliminating their entire traditional and indigenous leadership.
• Weakening the tribal society.
• Occupying their houses by force.
• Destroying their traditional and democratic institution of jirga (an assembly of elders that makes decisions based on consensus) and tribal code of Pashtunwali (“The Way of the Pashtuns”), replacing it instead with their own strict brand of Shari’a.
• Bringing destruction to homes and businesses by inciting Pakistani military operations.
The majority of the respondents (13 of 15) did not see the drone attacks as a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan. "Their argument is very simple: the state of Pakistan has already surrendered FATA to the militants, therefore, Pakistan has no reason to object to the drone attacks. Pakistan will have this right only if can retake the areas from the militants."
Some respondents said that FATA is used by the militants and the ISI as a launching pad for attacks on ISAF and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Each of the respondents remembered seeing the bodies of those martyred in Afghanistan in their villages. They all believed that drone attacks had resulted in substantial damage to the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban and their Arab and Punjabi allies. They believed the attacks caused minimum casualties to civilians.
It is worth emphasising that these conclusions are taken from a very small sample. However, their views entirely coincide with Pashtuns I met at meetings in Karachi last year (see my blog posting here), who were strongly opposed to both the militants and the ISI operating in their tribal homelands.

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