Those FATA surveys….

In an excellently timed response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to a Freedom of Information request from the APPG asking for information about the surveys carried out in the FATA region of Pakistan, cited by Alistair Burt in a Parliamentary Question from Nicholas Soames, it appears that the surveys are available online.  Leaving aside gripes that this is not exactly the most obvious location for this information to be held, and the disappointment that the FCO has not carried out any additional analysis of the information from these surveys or fed this information into policy development, the surveys are worth looking at.  Undertaken by Community Appraisal & Motivation Programme (CAMP), a Pakistani NGO, the Understanding FATA series seek to “reveal the thinking and the opinions of the people so that policy makers and influential actors in government, civil society, the international community, academics, journalists and the broader Pakistani citizenry will have useful, actionable information”. 

The 2010 survey, found:

  • 58.8% of the respondents believed that US drone attacks were “never justified”; though this varied by location, 99.3% of respondents in North Waziristan had this opinion compared to 12.9% in Kurram.  This indicates that those living in close proximity to drone strikes are more likely to have a negative opinion of this weapon.
  • 24.4% of the respondents “opined in a qualified manner that sometimes these attacks are justified if they are properly targeted and excessive civilian casualties are avoided”;
  • 4.4% of the respondents believed that US drone attacks were “always justified”.
  • The report noted that “The finding on drones echoes what is written in the press, i.e., they are a perceived threat and, importantly, the people do not see them as justified any more than they see suicide bombings as justifiable.”

These findings are hardly surprising.  However, the figure of 99.3% in North Waziristan should surely be worrying from the perspective of the US and Pakistani Governments.  It would be interesting to see how if this opinion is translated into action – for example, with higher rates of retaliation attacks or a greater number of public protests.  Similarly, it is interesting to note that approximately 25% of those surveyed had been displaced, a factor which significantly influenced their opinions and led to higher support for military operations by the Pakistani military and the use of drones.

Moving to the 2011 survey, again similar levels of opposition to drone strikes can be seen.  63% of respondents believed that drone strikes were “never justified”, an increase of 4.2% from the previous year.  4.3% believed that drones strikes were “sometimes justified” while 1.7% believed that they were “always justified”.  Again these figures were influenced by location with those living in Talibanised areas, more likely to support drone strikes.

This survey drilled down and considered the relationship between the impact of drone strikes and respondent’s attitudes to other aspects of their lives.  For example, a question as to whether an individual preferred to live in FATA, or outside the region, found that 3.4% of those who wished to live outside FATA gave drone attacks as the reason for their desire to leave.  The accompanying analysis points out that this figure is significant as most drone strikes are concentrated in a particular area of North Waziristan, meaning that this percentage of 3.4% is disproportionately large.  Drone attacks were seen, by 34.1% of the population as being “the prominent source of individual’s insecurity”.  The shape of attitudes towards the United States and UK was also considered in the 2011 survey.  The US suffered a further increase in “very unfavourable” opinions of the US Government, up 7.3% on the previous year to 58.8%.  In contrast, the UK saw a decline in the percentage of respondents who looked upon it very unfavourably to 37.2%.

This post is only a snapshot of two, in-depth and fascinating research projects into attitudes in FATA toward drones, conflict, insecurity and international affairs, among other issues.  CAMP clearly have the capacity and ability to access to this hard to reach region.  There would undoubtedly be benefit in ensuring that such surveys are carried out consistently on an annual basis.  Further, there would be equal merit in introducing this model, over the border, in Afghanistan.   More broadly, this data should be considered in the development of the UK’s drone policy, not only in terms of the lessons which could be learnt with regard to drone deployment in Afghanistan, but also in how the UK engages with the US government as to the impact of their use of drones in Pakistan.

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