Drone Attacks And Roots of Terror

Jun 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: The Nation

Yesterday’s The Nation included an editorial that claimed to explain the root causes of terrorism and called on the goverment to ‘do more’ to solve the problem. The primary cause of terrorism, according to The Nation, is US foreign policy, including drone attacks. I was especially curious about one item that comes up every time terrorism and the Americans are discussed in the media: drone attacks.

Drone attacks are the targeted killings of suspected militants using what are known as Unmanned Arial Vehichles (UAV) or drones. These aircraft are flown remotely and the weapons aboard them are fired remotely are controlled by Americans working with Pakistani military.

The Nation, as well as many other media voices, are quite opposed to drone attacks due to their habit of killing not just the one person who was targeted, but some innocent people who might be standing next to the target. Now, some will ask how an innocent person finds themself standing next to someone like Hakimullah Mehsud – but, again, that is for someone else to argue about.

The Nation gives a fairly common argument:

…one of the major causes of post-9/11 terrorism in Pakistan has been the US policies in this region – which are increasingly revealing their anti-Muslim character. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, these policies have been and continue to be directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Muslims – through military actions including the drone attacks.

My curiousity had to do with how bad these drone attacks actually are. So, I did a little bit of research and found this excellent web page that has a map of drone attacks from 2004 to 2010 examines the actual number of casualties.

Our study shows that the 135 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 39 in 2010, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 944 and 1,398 individuals, of whom around 654 to 1,011 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. Thus, the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 30 percent.

This is an interesting statistic. In the past six years, 70% of those killed by drone attacks were reliably reported as militants by the press. 

I also did some research to find out how many Pakistanis have been killed by militants. The results were a bit surprising. First, I had a hard time finding anything quite as comprehensive as the map of drone attacks and the research on militants killed by drones. There does not seem to be – at least as far as I can find – anyone who wants to create a map that tracks civilians killed by Taliban.

But I did find some interesting research. According to a report by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, in one year alone – 2009 – 3,021 innocent Pakistanis were killed and 7,334 were injured by terrorist attacks. According to the South Asia Intelligence Review, there have been over 7,500 civilians and 2,876 Pakistani troops killed by militants.

About 300 deaths by drone attacks have been innocents. In the same time period, over 10,000 innocents have been killed by terrorists.

Headlines from the past week have told that militant attacks killed 90 Ahmadis who were praying, 5-12 hospital workers in Lahore, and 3 or more people when Taliban blew up another girls school and health centre. Was this in response to drone attacks also?

Drone attacks are controversial, and this blog is not here to defend the practise. Not only The Nation, but officials with the UN have called for an end to the programme. But it is important to consider all the facts when discussing an issue as important as root causes of terrorism. The Nation asks a very important question:

“The question, though, for us is why in all instances, Pakistani citizens are vulnerable to being recruited as terrorists?”

This is a vital question, I agree completely. But to find the answer, we will have to look a little bit deeper than only drone attacks and American policies. That these practices are used by terrorist recruiters is no question. But The Nation is telling the same thing as terrorist recruiters – if drone attacks stop and Americans go away, terrorism will stop. I tell you, I wish it was so easy. 

The simple fact is, as bad as drone attacks might be, 300 deaths does not explain the 10,000 and more people who are being killed by terrorists in our nation. Ahmadis are not launching drone attacks. Drones are not being kept in girls schools. 

The Nation is asking the right questions, but it is avoiding the difficult truths.

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