Popular predators

The unpopularity of US drone strikes has been exaggerated
Pakistani politicians fume and rant against US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in the tribal areas in Pakistan’s North-west. The outrage is a charade, at least for the politicians in government, because some of the UAVs are operating out air bases in Pakistan, ostensibly with the knowledge and permission of the Pakistani government.

But a survey of the affected populations in the tribal areas, conducted by the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA), a local think-tank, found that the people do not quite share the same level of outrage.

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.

    —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%)[Farhat Taj/The News]

AIRRA claims that it “has been envisioned to remain independent, both ideologically and organizationally”. If the results any reflection of this vision, then they should deflate the displays of righteousness that Pakistani politicians put up, and indeed, weaken their hand while negotiating with their US counterparts.

7 thoughts on “Popular predators”

  1. How reliable are the AIRRA? If they are perceived as “city slickers” the responses might be skewed. If they are perceived as seeking a very specific answer, perhaps favourable to a powerful foreign power, the responses might actually reflect that.

    Also, is there a selection bias in people who agreed to speak to the organization volunteers? (I think this might be true, the question is, how big is the effect)

    The The News piece you link to is short on the details of the study (perhaps there is a scholarly paper in the works, but my experience of the quality of papers in this sort of area leave me cynical); and the author is actually a member of AIRRA conducting the study.

    I don’t doubt the sincerity of the study, but biases could tip the final decision into the other camp, given the close number in most categories.

  2. Interesting survey but I have to say the results should not be treated with much confidence. NWFP and FTA have turned into de facto warzones so the people you meet and the answers they give need to be carefully sifted before we jump to any conclusions. About 20% of those surveyed refused to give any answers and this itself should speak volumes. Existing data that have been collected on predator strikes both inside Pakistan and in Afghanistan indicate that “collateral damage” is high and that American intelligence on the ground is incredibly poor. Given that these are the same people that launched a rappel assault by Army Rangers on a UN building in Mogadishu beleiving it to be Mohammed Aideed’s hideout and botched the attempt to capture Al-Qaeda militants in Tora Bora instead being handed some patsies who were shipped off to Guantanamo Bay while the real terrorists were airlifted out to Pakistan, I am not entirely surprised. US troops have been critcised by their more professional peers such as the British and two British Army chiefs of staff have recorded the poor intelligence of American troops on the ground as a major operational obstacle.

    Also as someone who has done ethnograpic research for more than a year in India – outside a conflict zone, I find it difficult to beleive that Farhat Taj can claim to have access to over 2000 respondents. This is an incredible figure. Ethnographic research is very hard to do, because you have to earn people’s trust and get them to tell you what they really think and not what they simply beleive you want to hear. Having 10% of that number would be a tall task, the figure cited, simply strikes me as fantastical.

    Citing this study as proof of anything, is an unwise and hasty move imo.

  3. So far, all the Google results about the AIRRA lead to a guy named Khadim Hussein who apparently does most of the writing for the organization.

    Of all the sites, I saw his message was consistent across news sources, even Pakistani ones. His research might be flawed but he seems sincere.

  4. @Conrad,

    As compared to what?

    We either have to believe the Gilani dude based on the evidence comprising of different types of handwaving. Or imperfect social science.

    Not sure about you, but I will trust the Farhat dude more on this, even considering that the AIRRA might be financed by Mr Langley.

  5. @ Udayan
    >>As compared to what?

    Sorry, I am not sure what you are referring to here.

    >>We either have to believe the Gilani dude based on the evidence comprising of different types of handwaving. Or imperfect social science.

    Eh, we don’t have to believe Gilani at all; what I am saying is that the study is too flawed to draw any firm conclusions from, which is what Nitin’s post seeks to do. Social science is always imperfect – that is why it is regarded as distinct from the other sciences, this should not be an excuse for sloppy work. The methodology of this paper is very weak and doesn’t even include a margin for error. Questionnaire surveys are notoriously difficult to design and can be easily skewed to show a bias. I haven’t seen the work in question but before one accepts its findings which fly in the face of the rest of the available evidence and consensus something stronger than this is needed.

    Anybody involved in social science research would tell you that many of the potential problems can be limited or reduced to make it much less imperfect. Much more so than in this case.

    >>Not sure about you, but I will trust the Farhat dude more on this, even considering that the AIRRA might be financed by Mr Langley

    I simply said that I find Farhat Taj’s figure for the respondents he claims to have contacted and come across as an ethnographic researcher. I am happy to stand by this claim and I don’t think anyone who has done this kind of research will disagree with me. You are quite entitled to believe Farhat Taj, I am just pointing out that I don’t think the evidence provided supports this.

    I have not made any assertion about AIRRA being financed by an interested party or being used as a covert propaganda outfit – personally I am more than willing to take their assertions as an independent party at face value. My sole disagreement comes not from any imagined political agenda they have but their methodology and evidence.

  6. Conrad,

    I don’t know anything about AIRRA or Farhat Taj. Hence the conditional wording in the last paragraph.

    Udayan has a point: the survey must be seen in the face of purely unsubstantiated claims passed off as conventional wisdom by Pakistani politicians.

  7. Fair enough Nitin, but that is a one sentence qualification right at the end. The title of the original post and the subtitle, editorialise that you endorse the findings of this survey. At least one aspect, that of civilian deaths caused by aerial attacks, I find them hard to accept. Other investigators who have looked at this have concluded that aerial attacks are responsbible for a large number of civilians casualties, over the last 3 years in Afghanisatan they have accounted for about 50% of total civilian deaths caused by NATO forces:


    I am not saying that the civilians in the NWFP and FTA support the Taliban or like their presence but to say that predator attacks that frequently kill civilians is “popular” amongst them seems to be to be inaccurate and morally dubious.

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