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The Only Thing Pakistanis Hate More Than Drone Strikes: al-Qaeda And The Taliban

Bill Roggio presents a really interesting poll from the Pakistani tribal areas that strongly suggests two things. First, the Pakistanis really dislike U.S. drone strikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets. Second, the one thing they appear to dislike more is … the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

– 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%)

It’s important not to read this like you would read a domestic politics poll. Forty-five percent of respondents who say that the drone strikes cause “fear and terror in the common people” is a very large figure. Just because it’s a narrow minority that lives in fear of having a missile descend out of nowhere is no excuse for profligacy in dropping one. That’s a number that doesn’t indicate a great margin for error. Indeed, overinterpreting that figure is pretty much what al-Qaeda hopes we’ll do.

OK, so much for overinterpreting it. What about, you know, interpreting it? What the poll would seem to indicate, according to its pollsters, is 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.” It views the Taliban and al-Qaeda, properly, as the principal obstacle to that prospect. Counterintuitively, reducing the drone strikes might be the best approach here: the better not to distract the population from how much they disdain the extremists.

Of course, this runs into the problem of what to do in the absence of ground troops, because places like Swat have become, in essence, new safe havens for the jihadists. And there the answer may have to lie with Pakistani governmental will and capacity to return to the fight, especially as the Taliban keep violating the cease-fire. That’s not a good short-term strategy; in fact, it might be a dangerous one, given the prospect of the Taliban growing stronger in the areas they control. But the poll suggests that the sounder long-term strategy is one that doesn’t get in the way of Pakistani antipathy for the extremists.

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