"The consensus about drones" - A Must Read

News analysis: The consensus about drones
By Mosharraf Zaidi, Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Children in Waziristan call them “Ghangai” (emitter of constant humming). Like Scottish folk hero William Wallace — who purportedly shot bolts of thunder from his nether-regions —the legend of the drones grows. Faisal Shahzad’s failed attack on Times Square is the latest stimulant for the drone debates.
What this latest Pakistani terrorist has stimulated is a monster. The truth about the Ghangai has been contested —not only by the supposedly “rabid Pakistani press”, and the “fanatics” that make up this country of 180 million people. It has been contested by American think tanks. It has been contested by US military advisers. It has been contested even by researchers in their own studies, less than six months apart. As always, the truth is the first casualty of war. The contested and amputated truth about the Ghangai is a victim of partisanship and ideology. This is not the first time. In Pakistan, a country whose military and political elite have perfected the art of the dilution of truth, the myth-making is on.

We’ve seen this script before, of course — with Aafia Siddiqui, with the hullabaloo over Blackwater, and with the Kerry Lugar Bill. Each time, Pakistanis are told that their patriotism and sense of dignity is a cover and a code for anti-Americanism. Each time, Americans are told that Pakistan’s rabid anti-Americanism is an existential threat to their lives and the lives of their children. These issues become litmus tests. President Barack Obama’s is a decidedly more thoughtful and constructive approach to dealing with the Muslim world, than George W. Bush’s. Yet it is Bush’s words that continue to define the story of Americans and Pakistanis: “You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists”.

This false choice is at the heart of the dilemma presented by the ghangais or the drones. It is entirely possible to be vehemently, and even existentially opposed to the terrorists, and to also be opposed to the clumsy and insensitive manner in which the United States has conducted its pursuit of terrorists in Pakistan. That is a fact that almost every survey conducted in the last two years keeps confirming.

The truth about the drones is located within this context. If it is difficult for Pakistanis to understand why they are expected to celebrate the missiles called “Hellfire” falling on innocent civilians, it is equally difficult for Americans to understand why Pakistanis are resistant to the killing of terrorists, terrorists that wreak more havoc on Pakistanis than they do on Americans.

As the smoke from Times Square suffocates the already emphysemic relationship between Pakistan and the US, clarity is paramount. In a wide series of discussions with key actors, including tribesmen, senior correspondents from FATA, analysts that study the region, and political actors, there is black, and white and grey. In the rush to validate the pre-determined positions that different camps have taken on the drones, some common truths are missed out entirely.

When we conduct debate on the basis of how we feel, the facts don’t matter. In the drone debate, people are being motivated by factors that do not relate to reason. A lot of the debate is being driven by emotions, and by ideology. That is why supporters of drone attacks within Pakistan will cite facts as selectively as opponents of drone attacks. When the facts are accumulated, it is rather easy to draw some big picture conclusions that might even resemble a consensus. If you are motivated by emotions however, those conclusions won’t change how you feel.

What are those conclusions? Essentially, there are three. The first is that drones are not popular. The second is that innocent civilian deaths are real. The third is that drone attacks have been the most effective instrument in beheading the organizations capacities of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan’s FATA. Beyond these three simple facts, there are nuances, and there are variations in degrees. There are differences in definitions, and there are differences in approach. But nobody in any credible position can dispute these three facts. Drone attacks are not popular, drone attacks kill innocent people and drone attacks have compromised Al-Qaeda and its affilaites’ ability to operate.

These are not easy facts to digest during the same meal.

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