Jun 12, 2013, 12.00AM IST [ Sameer Arshad ]
The latest drone strike to hit Pakistan’s tribal region came days after the country’s new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif demanded an end to such attacks. Academic Akbar Ahmed has authored The Thistle and the Drone on the dynamics of drone strikes. Speaking with Sameer Arshad, Ahmed discussed why drones are ineffective, the fall-out of using these, the US-Pakistan relationship — and how the Taliban has grown in power but could also face resistance:
What do drone strikes just before and after Nawaz Sharif’s inauguration reflect about US policies towards his government?
These reflect a certain contradiction in American policy — these almost suggest a confrontation with the new PM which the US does not want.
However, Sharif is a seasoned politician. He will find a way out to maintain Pakistan’s integrity while America pursues its aims. The relationship is mutually beneficial and important to both.
Are drone strikes making the world safer?
I can categorically answer that in the negative. Apart from the dubious arguments justifying drones, this is a highly ineffective method of checking violence. With every three bad guys killed, there are some 30 innocent women and children who die. And every strike feeds into anti-Americanism — after over a decade of using drones, neither have suicide bombers stopped, nor have those following them dwindled.
We need other methods of checking violence effectively.
How have these strikes and militarisation impacted the tribal regions?
Although a debate has recently begun in the US about their legality, few are able to connect the dots between the drones’ use and impact. I have been Political Agent in charge of South Waziristan and various other tribal regions. Tribal society rests on three pillars of authority — lineage elders who mediate conflict through peace councils called jirgas, religious figures, and the representative of the central government.
These pillars have an uneasy relationship but together provide a kind of stability and security. The post-9/11 world has shaken these pillars — in the vacuum, a violent form of leadership like the Taliban emerged. This targets old pillars of authority. Some 400 elders in Waziristan alone have been targeted.
Drone strikes, the Pakistan army’s anti-Taliban operations, suicide bombers and tribal rivalry have shattered society’s fabric. A large percentage has sought shelter in the shanty towns of the bigger cities. As these are impoverished areas with virtually no hospitals, colleges and industry, an already destitute area is facing disaster.
Have drone strikes widened the gulf between Islamic communities and the West?
While the US and the West do much good, including development aid and education projects, the drone has become the focal point for many in the Muslim world.
Within tribal regions, for every step forward the US takes with humanitarian aid, it takes two steps back with every innocent life lost in a drone strike. Yet, even before the use of drones, the gulf between the West and Islam had opened frighteningly wide on 9/11.
How are things going to pan out following America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Well, the US will depend increasingly on Pakistan to provide it cover through land routes and use its influence to keep hostile groups under control for an orderly withdrawal.
Pakistan has a direct interest in what happens in Kabul to prevent what it argues is an Indian attempt to encircle it. Both China and Russia are also interested as is Iran.
Internally, there will be a falling back to tribal configurations. The Taliban will play a role in Afghan politics — but it will face greater resistance.