HUMAN rights organisations and even some former US military commanders argue that drone strikes inadvertently increase terrorism by exerting a “blowback” effect. Their logic is simple. Drone strikes kill more innocent civilians than terrorists, which radicalises affected populations and motivates them to join terrorist groups to retaliate against the United States.
The perfect case for testing the blowback effect is Pakistan, where, since 2004, the CIA has launched an estimated 423 strikes, constituting 75 per cent of the agency’s drone strikes worldwide.
The strikes were carried out in the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) bordering Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda and Taliban militants found a safe haven after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Opinion polls, such as those carried out by the Pew Research Centre, indicate widespread Pakistani anger at drone strikes. Pew’s latest (2014) survey showed that 67 per cent of respondents opposed drone attacks because they kill “too many innocent people”. However, Pew data on drones is deeply misleading as the organisation draws its samples mostly from urban areas not directly impacted by drone strikes.
Nonetheless, in a 2011 survey conducted by a local NGO in Fata, 63 per cent of the respondents thought drone strikes “are never justified”. But when the results are disaggregated, support for drone strikes is the highest in North Waziristan, the Fata agency where the CIA has carried out most of its lethal drone operations, compared to the other six.
Except for a 2012 Associated Press analysis of casualties from 10 of the deadliest drone strikes in North Waziristan, the voice of the local population most affected by drone strikes is often neglected in this contentious debate.
To assess local perceptions of drone strikes, I conducted 147 interviews with adult residents of North Waziristan in the summer and winter of 2015. The study constitutes the largest set of in-depth interviews with people from the district, including maliks, reporters, lawyers, businessmen, rights activists, and heads and members of the local chapters of seven political parties, including the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI).
Broadly speaking, the interview data do not support the blowback thesis. More specifically, the data contradict the presumed local radicalisation effects of drones. In fact, 79 per cent of the respondents endorsed drones.
In sharp contrast to claims about the significant civilian death toll from drone strikes, 64 per cent, including several living in villages close to strike locations, believed that drone strikes accurately targeted militants. And 56 per cent believed drones seldom killed non-militants.
As the Crisis Group and Georgetown’s Christine Fair have noted, most locals prefer drones to the military’s ground and aerial offensives that cause more extensive damage to civilian life and property.
Even local members of the JI and the vehemently anti-drone Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf disputed their national leadership’s claims about the heavy loss of innocent lives as a result of drone strikes. More than two-thirds of respondents said that most of the non-militant civilians who died in drone attacks were known militant sympathisers or collaborators who might already be radicalised. More strikingly, most interviewees believed that the drone campaign decisively broke the back of the Taliban.
Recent studies have also posited a link between drone fatalities and revenge in Fata. When someone dies in a drone strike, the argument goes, their family members are obligated to take revenge in accordance with their ethical code of Pashtunwali. But less than 15 per cent of the respondents supported the revenge thesis.
As many tribal elders stressed to me, militants were motivated by a violent jihadi creed, not Pashtun customs predating Islam. The Taliban have assassinated hundreds of tribal leaders and others on the mere suspicion of spying for the US or the Pakistan military. If anything, the revenge motive should drive people to target the Taliban to avenge the deaths of their loved ones.
The US drone strategy in Pakistan raises serious ethical, legal and mental health concerns. While the Obama administration justifies the use of armed drones as lawful self-defence against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, many legal experts believe that lethal drone strikes in non-traditional battlefields, such as Fata, are impermissible under international law.
And as emphasised in the well-known 2012 Stanford-NYU Law School Clinics study, “Living Under Drones”, and other reports, the traumatising impact of constant drone surveillance on Fata residents cannot be ignored either. Almost one-fourth of the respondents affirmed drones’ negative psychological effects on locals.
Drone warfare in Fata has many problems. But as my interview data clearly suggest, blowback is not one of them. In fact, the data show the opposite: Most respondents support drone strikes.
By arrangement with the Washington Post
The writer is an assistant professor in the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2016
ISLAMABAD: A Navy tribunal sentenced five officers to death in the Sept 6, 2014, Karachi Naval Dockyard attack case, father of one of the convicts said on Monday.
Retired Major Saeed Ahmed told Dawn that in a trial his son, Sub-Lieutenant Hammad Ahmed, and four other naval officers had been convicted of the naval dockyard attack that took place on Defence Day around two years ago.
He said the five were charged with having links with the militant Islamic State group, mutiny, hatching a conspiracy and carrying weapons in the dockyard.
However, according to media reports, the attackers were purportedly planning to hijack the warship PNS Zulfiqar to use it in an attack on one of the US navy’s refuel ships. Two militants were killed and four others were apprehended by security personnel.
Mr Saeed said that the naval authorities did not provide his son the right to a fair trial.
“I wrote a letter to the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the navy on August 15, 2015, asking him to provide the opportunity of a defence counsel to my son,” he said. “The navy JAG on Sept 21 replied that the option of defence counsel would be available at the time of trial.”
Mr Saeed said that he was waiting for the commencement of the trial when someone recently informed him that his son had been shifted to the Karachi central prison.
The retired army officer came to know about the conclusion of the trial and capital punishment when he went to Karachi and met his son and his four colleagues — Irfanullah, Muhammad Hammad, Arsalan Nazeer and Hashim Naseer — in prison.
“My son told me that a naval court had awarded death penalty to him and four other officers after a secret trial,” he claimed. “The convicted officers informed me that the naval court concluded the trial on April 12 and promulgated the sentence on April 14.”
He said that naval authorities did not provide him copies of the proceedings of the trial when he approached them for the same.
The convict’s father said that he would file an appeal against the judgement before the naval court of appeal.
He claimed that his son and others had been made scapegoats, as this was not the first time when such security lapses came to light.
He said the five officers had been in the navy for only four to five years and they were not capable of seizing a warship and using it for a banned outfit.
In July 2015, the naval authorities informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that a ‘missing’ sub-lieutenant, Hafiz Ehsanullah Sajjad, was in their custody in connection with the naval dockyard attack case.
Safia Ismail, the wife of the ‘missing’ officer, had filed a petition before the IHC stating that her husband was detained by the navy without any charge. She said that he was taken away from his residence in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Karachi, by “some people in plain clothes on the evening of Sept 6, 2014”.
She said that her father, who was also a retired Navy officer, had tried to ascertain his whereabouts but to no avail.
Meanwhile, officials of the Pakistan Navy’s directorate of public relations were not available when Dawn tried to contact them for official confirmation.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2016
Recently, I started a project called 'Pakistan is Calling' in an effort to fight stereotypes against Pakistan. Through my project, I'm hoping to generate 12,000 USD to invite foreigners on a fully-funded trip to Pakistan in the spring of 2017.
So far, it has solicited impressive responses from travellers across the globe. Despite offering fully-funded trips, a number of people were willing to come on self-funded trips.
They only requested my help in obtaining a Pakistani visa because they needed an invitation from a national/resident for a visit visa, or from a travel agency for a tourist visa.
Because most of the people do not have any relatives or friends in Pakistan, who could send an invitation, they are compelled to approach a travel agency which will normally demand around $50-60 for an invitation — this excludes the visa-processing fee charged by Pakistani missions.
A couple of years ago, Pakistan announced a liberal visa policy — offering on-arrival visa to groups coming from tourist-friendly countries, which had registered their trip through a designated tour operator.
However, the policy was not very effective because the cost for fully-guided tours is quite high, and controlled by travel agents.
Additionally, Pakistan had also introduced a reciprocal-visa policy based on the principle that, "we will treat your citizens the way you treat our citizens and we will charge visa fee from your citizens equal to what you charge from our citizens".
While the policy honoured the self-respect of the citizens and state of Pakistan, I felt it was imprudent.
Consider this: One of the objectives of Pakistan's tourism ministry is to project the country as a 'tourist-friendly destination'. With this objective, I don't think the policy of reciprocity is very useful.
You are not allowing someone to enter your home, but then you are also expecting people to appreciate the beauty in your home.
It's very common for travellers to live like nomads thanks, in no small part, to freelancing and online blogging. I have interacted with hundreds of nomads who travel and earn money through their travel writings, or by working online while travelling.
I have also met people who have undertaken year-long travels and have wanted to visit Pakistan, only to apply for a visa and find out that the country has a policy whereby visit visas cannot be issued from a third country, unless they have been residing there legally for a long period of time.
For instance, if someone from the United States starts a world tour, reaches a certain country, for example: Iran, India or China and then decides to visit Pakistan for a couple of weeks, he/she will be turned back from that country's Pakistani diplomatic mission and asked to go to back to the US and apply for a visa.
This person will have no option but to skip travelling to Pakistan altogether, or go to visa-friendly countries like Sri Lanka or Nepal.
Home to some of the oldest civilisations, sunny blue beaches, exotic mountain ranges and the land of four seasons, Pakistan has immense potential as a tourist destination.
It is high time we reconsider our tourism and visa policies. I've had the good fortune of travelling quite a bit; my experience has taught me that the only way we can dismantle misperceptions about countries is through robust interaction.
It's only when we meet and speak to each other do we realise that things fed to us about a certain nation was not quite the truth.
Having examined our visa and tourism policies of various countries, I propose the following recommendations:
A visa-free travel or on-arrival visa facility should be provided for Pakistan's friends like Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Gulf, China, Malaysia, etc.
Remove the Letter of Invitation (LoI) condition for obtaining tourist visa for all nationalities.
Construct and upgrade the airports in Gilgit, Chitral, Skardu, Chilas, Turbat, Gwadar, Muzaffarabad and Mirpur for international flights, and invite foreign carriers — particularly from Europe to directly land there.
PIA and other private airlines should offer transit facilities at Pakistani airports, while carrying passengers from Central, South or Southeast Asia to Gulf, EU or Americas (or vice-versa) and transiting passengers should have the opportunity to get a transit visa on arrival for some amount of time in order to explore cities like Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore or even Peshawar, Sialkot, Quetta, Faisalabad and Multan.
Introduce an online-visa approval system like in Sri Lanka, Turkey and Georgia which is centralised and easy to manage for both visitors and authorities.
Decrease the exorbitant visa fee for all countries which will, in turn, help attract more visitors and get more revenue.
Discuss a simple visa policy on reciprocal basis with our neighbours, including China, Iran, India and Central Asian States (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh or Bhutan)
Foster a competitive environment for airlines to allow reduced fares and better connectivity, particularly with neighboring countries. A lower landing cost will attract more airlines, including cheap ones, which will help bring in more visitors and revenue.
Address the reservations of the international community that has restricted Pakistani passports for reasons including, but not limited to, terrorism and smuggling.
For a better cultural understanding of Pakistan, it's important that the country be made more accessible. And I am optimistic that revising our current visa policies is a leap in the direction of removing misconceptions about Pakistan.
ISLAMABAD: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is encouraged that Pakistan will convert cash-strapped Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) into a limited company but said on Wednesday it will see if the reforms go far enough in restructuring the company.
Parliament adopted a law on Monday to convert PIA into a limited company but it prevents the government from giving up its management control.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had made the privatisation of the company a top goal when he came to power in 2013.
The privatisation of it and 67 other state-owned companies is also a major element of a $6.7 billion IMF package that helped Pakistan stave off default in 2013. The IMF has continued to release loan instalments despite missed targets.
“We are encouraged that a consensus has been reached on corporatization of PIA,” Harald Finger, IMF mission chief for Pakistan, told Reuters in an email.
“We will need to study the approved bill and discuss with the authorities their emerging plans to run PIA strictly as a commercial entity and strengthen its performance in the absence of a transfer of management control to a private investor.” PIA has accumulated losses of more than $3 billion.
It and other loss-making companies, including power distribution companies and steel giant Pakistan Steel Mills, cost the government an estimated $5 billion a year.
In February, the IMF released the last $497 million tranche of its loan, even after Pakistan shelved plans to privatise its power supply companies and said it would miss deadlines to sell other loss-making state firms.
Another $1.1 billion remains to be released
KARACHI: The Pakistan Coast Guards on Tuesday claimed to have arrested more than 70 illegal immigrants, including Afghan nationals, at Gwadar while they were attempting to enter Iran through Pakistani routes.
In a statement, the coastguards said security personnel arrested the illegal immigrants during a regular checking on Shahjahan Road.
“The arrested persons included 53 Afghans comprising 34 men, six women and 13 children,” it said.
The remaining 22 were Pakistanis who were arrested when they were attempting to enter Iran without valid visas and other documents, according to the statement. It added that they were poised to use the sea border to reach their desired destination.
This is the second such arrest made by the coastguards within the past one month, as the security agency on March 17 apprehended 103 illegal immigrants at Pasni while they were attempting to enter Iran without valid documents.
The spokesman for the coastguards said that there was a chance that criminal elements and militants made attempts to escape using the coastal belt due to the ongoing Zarb-i-Azb operation against terrorists.
“In view of the sensitive situation, the Pakistan Coast Guards has intensified checking through road checks and constituted special mobile patrolling teams in its area,” he added.
“Last month, coastguards officials apprehended 103 illegal immigrants, including 11 Afghan nationals, five Iranians and 87 Pakistanis from two different locations in Pasni.”
Under the set rules, he said, all the apprehended persons were handed over to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for further investigation against the illegal immigrants in line with the defined laws.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2016
LAHORE: In the wake of the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park suicide attack, the government has decided to arrest all individuals included in the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The decision was taken at a meeting on law and order presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif here on Monday.
The prime minister expressed anger at Punjab’s security officials for ignoring an alert issued by an intelligence agency about presence in the province of four to five suicide bombers looking for a soft target.
He also expressed dismay over the leniency shown towards miscreants in Islamabad and asked Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was present in the meeting, to personally look into the matter.
A participant of the meeting told Dawn that the prime minister had ordered an immediate action against the history-sheeters included in the Fourth Schedule and said the action must not wait for a Rangers-police combined operation strategy and all law-enforcement agencies could act on their own to avert chances of criminals slipping away.
The Fourth Schedule comprises the elements found to be or suspected to be involved in anti-state activities, delivering hate speeches and/or activists of religious outfits not yet banned but related with militancy in any way.
At least 2,000 criminals are at present included in the list, the official said, adding that the action had been started across Punjab, particularly in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan.
The prime minister got infuriated at the Punjab home secretary when a joint director general of the Intelligence Bureau told him that the agency had issued a terror alert well in time.
Secretary Azam Sultan claimed in the meeting that his department had issued a circular containing the alert, but law-enforcement agencies overlooked it.
The meeting was told that the wife of a terrorist killed in an encounter months ago was now apparently operating the deadly network of a banned outfit. It was also informed that the suspected bomber, whose skull was found at the crime scene, had been working for a banned outfit and also recruited some youths for it.
The prime minister expressed displeasure over the entry of the miscreants into Islamabad’s Red Zone without any hindrance.
He was informed that organisers of the chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri had given an assurance that they would not cross a certain limit and that’s why Punjab police were ill-prepared to tackle the protesters.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016
LAHORE (News Desk) – While Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif is being appreciated by world powers for successful anti-terrorism operation in tribal areas of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia wants him to join its 34-country alliance as commander-in-chief after his retirement from Pakistan Army, a Pakistan’s daily claimed on Thursday.
“Riyadh has asked General Raheel Sharif to take over the position of chief of the coalition force to combat terrorist organisations which are maligning Islamic ideology worldwide,” reported the Daily Jang, quoting unnamed military sources.
The report further added that Raheel Sharif’s appointment as the coalition force commander will not affect Pakistan’s natural position in Saudi-Iran tensions. “Pakistani role in 34-country military alliance will also remain unchanged.”
The Saudi offer comes in light of the general’s increasing popularity in Pakistan and the west due to successful military operation Zarb-e-Azb, which improved law and order situation in Pakistan to a great extent.
As far as Raheel Sharif’s retirement or extension in service as Pakistani Chief of Army Staff is concerned, a statement of the Pakistan army spokesman said that Raheel Sharif will retire on due date, dismissing the ongoing debate over possible extension in Army chief’s service.
Raheel Sharif took over the position of Chief of Army Staff in November 2013 and is due to retire in the end of this year.
General Raheel Sharif is currently in Saudi Arabia to witness 20-country joint military exercise “North Thunder” along with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The exercise is being portrayed as show of military power in international media after announcement of anti-terrorism alliance.
Earlier in 2015, Saudi Arabia had announced Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Turkey, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, Palestine, Comoros, Qatar, Cote d’Ivoire, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen; as part of a 34-country alliance which will have its control center in Riyadh according to the statement.