The Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a think tank of researchers and political activists from the NWFP and FATA, conducts research, surveys and collect statistics on various issues concerning the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorism and human security there. AIRRA research teams go deep inside Taliban- and Al-Qaeda-occupied areas of FATA to collect information. Most of the areas are not accessible to journalists.
Between last November and January AIRRA sent five teams, each made up of five researchers, to the parts of FATA that are often hit by American drones, to conduct a survey of public opinion about the attacks. The team visited Wana (South Waziristan), Ladda (South Waziristan), Miranshah (North Waziristan), Razmak (North Waziristan) and Parachinar (Kurram Agency). The teams handed out 650 structured questionnaires to people in the areas. The questionnaires were in Pashto, English and Urdu. The 550 respondents (100 declined to answer) were from professions related to business, education, health and transport. Following are the questions and the responses of the people of FATA.
-- Do you see drone attacks bringing about fear and terror in the common people? (Yes 45%, No 55%)
-- Do you think the drones are accurate in their strikes? (Yes 52%, No 48%)
-- Do you think anti-American feelings in the area increased due to drone attacks recently? (Yes 42%, No 58%)
-- Should Pakistan military carry out targeted strikes at the militant organisations? (Yes 70%, No 30%)
-- Do the militant organisations get damaged due to drone attacks? (Yes 60%, No 40%)
A group of researchers at AIRRA draw these conclusions from the survey. The popular notion outside the Pakhtun belt that a large majority of the local population supports the Taliban movement lacks substance. The notion that anti-Americanism in the region has not increased due to drone attacks is rejected. The study supports the notion that a large majority of the people in the Pakhtun belt wants to be incorporated with the state and wants to integrate with the rest of the world.
The survey also reinforces my own ethnographic interactions with people of FATA, both inside FATA and the FATA IDP’s in the NWFP. This includes people I personally met and those I am in contact with through telephone calls and emails. This includes men and women, from illiterate to people with university level education. The number is well over 2000. I asked almost all those people if they see the US drone attacks on FATA as violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. More than two-third said they did not. Pakistan’s sovereignty, they argued, was insulted and annihilated by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, whose territory FATA is after Pakistan lost it to them. The US is violating the sovereignty of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, not of Pakistan. Almost half the people said that the US drones attacking Islamabad or Lahore will be violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan, because these areas are not taken over by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Many people laughed when I mentioned the word sovereignty with respect to Pakistan.
Over two-thirds of the people viewed Al-Qaeda and the Taliban as enemy number one, and wanted the Pakistani army to clear the area of the militants. A little under two-thirds want the Americans to continue the drone attack because the Pakistani army is unable or unwilling to retake the territory from the Taliban.
The people I asked about civilian causalities in the drone attacks said most of the attacks had hit their targets, which include Arab, Chechen, Uzbek and Tajik terrorists of Al-Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban (Pakhtun and Punjabis) and training camps of the terrorists. There has been some collateral damage.
The drones hit hujras or houses which the Taliban forced people to rent out to them. There is collateral damage when the family forced to rent out the property is living in an adjacent house or a portion of the property rented out.
The Taliban and Al Qaeda have unleashed a reign of terror on the people of FATA. People are afraid that the Taliban will suspect their loyalty and behead them. Thus, in order to prove their loyalty to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, they offer them to rent their houses and hujras for residential purposes.
There are people who are linked with the Taliban. Terrorists visit their houses as guests and live in the houses and hujras. The drones attacks kill women and small children of the hosts. These are innocent deaths because the women and children have no role in the men’s links with terrorists.
Other innocent victims are local people who just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
People told me that typically what happens after every drone attack is that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists cordon off the area. No one from the local population is allowed to access the site, even if there are local people killed or injured. Their relatives cry and beg the terrorists to let them go near the site. But the Taliban and Al Qaeda do not allow them. The Taliban and Al Qaeda remove everything they want from the site and then allow the locals to see the site.
The survey conducted by AIRRA and my ethnographic interactions contradict the mantra of violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan perpetuated by the armchair analysts in the media. I have been arguing on these pages that analyses of those analysts have nothing to do with the reality of the FATA people. For some reason they take FATA for granted. They feel they are at liberty to fantasise whatever they like about FATA and present to the audience as a truth. Some of those armchair analysts also have a misplaced optimism about themselves. They believe my challenge to their fantasies about FATA is because I like to give them time! I give time to the land I love--FATA and the NWFP--and to the state I am loyal to--Pakistan.
What is happening in FATA is destroying the lives and culture of the FATA people, threatening the integrity of Pakistan and world peace. Fantasies of the armchair analysts are helping no one but Al Qaeda and the Taliban--enemies of the land and culture I love, and our state. I will therefore continue to challenge the fantasies of the armchairs analysts, whenever possible.
The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. Email: bergen34@ yahoo.com