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Collateral Damage and Radicalization Process: A Case of American Drone Strikes Policy in FATA, Pakistan
The attack on the World Trade Center in America, a potent symbol of western capitalism, on September 11, 2001, marked a significant transformation in policies to counter and defeat terrorism. In a swift response, the then U.S. President held the leadership of Al-Qaeda Central, a terrorist organization based in Afghanistan, responsible for the havoc. On the eve of his decision to send his ground forces to Afghanistan in October 2001, President Bush made it clear in his speech to the Congress that ‘our war against terror begins with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan but doesn’t end there’ (Clark & Creek, 2012) and showed a strong resolve to chase down every terrorist wherever he was happened to be found. The American led attacks disturbed and dispersed members of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda members infiltrated into FATA, rough mountainous terrain in Pakistan near Pak-Afghan border and from there, they started launching their attacks against the NATO forces in Afghanistan (Minhas & Qadir, 2014). As the U.S. post 9/11 security strategy provides for pre-emptive and preventive strikes, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) turned to drone strikes to target Taliban and Al-Qaeda network in FATA (Minhas & Qadir, 2014).
Ever since 2004 when the drone was used for the first time in Pakistan, the deployment of pilotless aircraft for so-called targeted killings by the U.S. has fast become one of the most controversial human rights issues in the world (AmnestyInternational, 2013). Given the feature of being controlled from a remote place along with greater distance, both social and emotional between the killer and victim, drone strikes are more vulnerable to mistakes in target identification and location that often result in collateral damage. Though CIA officials maintain that drones are extremely effective and precise, with the least possibility of civilian casualties (Khan, 2011), there is consensus in opinion about collateral damage from drone strikes. Even Barack Obama and others in the U.S. have publicly acknowledged that drone strikes have killed and injured civilians (Stephen & Leonard, 2005). Because drone strikes kill non-combatants including children, women and elderly people, polls suggest that there is strong opposition in Pakistan to the use of drones in Pakistan (Kaltenthaler, Miller, & Fair, 2012).
It is very important to ascertain why, after fifteen years of continuous fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, the U.S. still faces a resilient insurgency. The primary aim of this study is to shed light on the assumption that drone strikes, in situations when they kill civilians including children, women, young and old aged people in FATA, Pakistan, maybe counter-productive by radicalizing those who suffer losses in the form of injuries/deaths of their loved ones. Moreover, the study will suggest policy solutions and recommendations about drone strikes in light of its findings.
Contemporary studies on radicalization, in general, maintain the view that it is political Islam that has been the driving force for radicalization, resulting in violent extremism and terrorism around the world. However, while there may be evidence to suggest that the main driver to radicalization is though religion and commitment to ‘jihad’, the possibility of alternative explanations cannot be denied. This research dissertation argues that given the unique socio-cultural code of FATA known as Pashtunwali, importantly it is not a religion, but the desire to avenge the death of their dear ones, those civilian non-combatants killed in drone strikes, that works as a potent reason in the radicalization of Pashtun community in FATA region of Pakistan. In other words, it is the tribal code of revenge, known locally as Badal, that reinforces and paves the way for radicalization of the aggrieved people in the wake of collateral damage from drone strikes.
Furthermore, this study will argue that this revenge-radicalization relationship has worked to the advantage of terrorist organizations operational in FATA as those overpowered by the desire of revenge are more willing to join militant organizations like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The rationale for this alliance between drone victims and militant organizations is the identification of common enemies - the US and Pakistani government. Moreover, the Pashtun tribesmen feel more in common with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters than foreign occupiers such as the U.S. This brings the terrorist organizations and aggrieved community closer.
Radicalization Defined and Theorized
Though the phenomenon of radicalization has been subject to rigorous scientific research ever since its introduction to the academic world, scholars have not been able to establish a universally agreed definition (Veldhuis & Staun, 2009). As the phenomenon of radicalization is too young in the academic world, it is controversial, complex and a poorly defined concept. The only thing that scholars and experts agree on is that radicalization is a process (Schmid, 2013). Beyond this point, there is a significant diversion of opinion on what radicalization is and what are its drivers.
The Dutch Security Service (AIVD) defines radicalization as a ‘growing readiness to pursue and/or support—if necessary by undemocratic means—far-reaching changes in society that conflict with, or pose a threat to, the democratic order’ (Mandel, 2017). This definition tries to fit radicalization into the frame of homegrown extremism that poses a threat to western societies by acting in contradiction to democratic norms. However, such an approach is faulty, for it must be borne in mind that radicalization exists everywhere for a variety of ideological, political and religious reasons irrespective of whether a state is democratic, semi-democratic or non-democratic.
McCauley and Moskalenko define radicalization as ‘the increasing extremity of beliefs, feelings, and behaviors in directions that increasingly justify intergroup violence and demand sacrifice in defense of the ingroup’ (Mccauley & Moskalenko, 2008). This definition puts more stress on group level radicalization from the perspective of group identification and affiliation in relation to other, but rival groups on the basis of ideological differences or conflictual interests. But one must not ignore the possibility of individual-level dynamics and socio-political characteristics that one lives in, as they often cause someone to develop extremist behavior.
This study, in principle, agrees that ‘radicalization is a process in which individuals adopt extreme political, social, and/or religious ideals and aspirations, and where the attainment of particular goals justifies the use of indiscriminate violence. It is both a mental and emotional process that prepares and motivates an individual to pursue violent behavior’ (Wilner & Dubouloz, 2009). This definition is more comprehensive and detailed one to explain what radicalization is all about and how it occurs. However, the term ‘indiscriminate’ is of particular importance here as it has been seen, in recent years, that violence, under the influence of radicalized behavior who join trans-national militant organizations, has been perpetrated in a generalized manner to effectively publicize one’s cause and win greater public and media attention. Moreover, the phrase ‘mental and emotional process’ signifies the fact that radicalization is a psychological condition that may not last forever and can be curbed through a process of de-radicalization over a period of time.
If radicalization is a mental/psychological process of change, there are organizations and individuals who channelize and facilitate this process for recruitment purposes by militant organizations (Borum, 2011). This has been seen in the case of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan who have effectively used propaganda tools to their advantage by recruiting a sizeable number of young people. According to the Homeland Security Institute’s report (2009), al-Qaeda and other affiliated organizations have used conflict zones in Pakistan/Afghanistan as recruitment pools. These terrorist organizations can find more fertile grounds in conflict zones for radicalization, and so effectively appeal to exploit the personal grievances and other situational factors for recruitment purposes.
Radicalization literature, rooted in socio-psychological paradigm, accounts for the primacy of individual grievances and discontent by making explicit reference to the humiliation-revenge mechanism (Christmann, 2012). The Humiliation-Revenge Theory argues that humiliation of a person or group may be a source of increased anger, causing the humiliated individual a desire to revenge against the oppressors or other targets associated with the oppressor held responsible for the humiliation (Moghadam, 2006). The reason being that humiliation provokes internal pressure, either social or psychological, pushing the victims to exact revenge by switching over to the path of violent extremism against the perpetrators.
In the first instance, humiliation, which constitutes injustice, harm and loss of honour and dignity, leads to the element of grievance. Grievances suffered by someone as an individual or member of a group (religious or ethnic) can ultimately be a powerful reason to prompt radicalization (Kruglanski et al., 2014). Individual humiliation may result from the violation of fundamental rights such as loss of property, prestige and above all, the death of closed or loved ones. Group humiliation is prompted by factors such as victimization of an ethnic or religious group, discrimination and foreign occupation of territory (Kruglanski et al., 2014). Both these situations may provide a possible moral justification and strong reason to retaliate in order to restore the lost social significance and dignity.
Lindner (2007) describes how humiliation, which involves the loss of honour in many cases, escalates violence and conflicts between individuals and nations. In this regard, there is a widely shared conception that when Germany was humiliated through the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to render it harmless, the strategy proved counter-productive. This national humiliation provided Adolf Hitler with a necessary foundation to retaliate in the Holocaust as a remedy to regain the lost national pride and honour (Lindner, 2007). What is concluded is that the expression of revenge in the wake humiliation can result in mass violence, especially when the dignity and prestige of a martial race are hurt.
Oppression and humiliation, in many cases, is the chief reason to invoke vengeance (Torres & Bergner, 2010). For an individual, revenge is the desire to inflict harm in reciprocation against the perpetrators of damage and injustice that might have happened to oneself or one’s group (Kruglanski et al., 2014). In the words of Dr Grenshaw, ‘if there is one single emotion that causes an individual to radicalize, it is the desire of vengeance. A regime itself encourages radicalization when it creates martyrs to be avenged. No doubt, anger at what is perceived as unjust persecution inspires demand for revenge’ (Crenshaw, 2008). For an individual or group, revenge is vital because it helps restore victim’s lost dignity and prestige in relation to society, he lives in by dealing a blow to his enemy who is responsible for one’s victimization and annihilation.
The hypothetical assumption that humiliation generates the motive for revenge, which stimulates violent radicalization is supported by strong empirical pieces of evidence. The history of personal grievance as a reason for violent radicalization goes back to 1800s to the Russian terrorist leader Andrei Zhelyabov, who masterminded many political assassinations in a drive to revenge the atrocities of monarchist regime that he encountered personally (Mccauley & Moskalenko, 2008). On another occasion, Chechen Black Widows are believed to be seeking revenge against the Russian troops for the death of their menfolk. Similarly, the members of Black Tigers, a suicide brigade of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka are claimed to be the survivors of Sinhalese oppression (McCauley & Moskalenko, 2008).
The story of Handi Jaradat, a 29-year-old Palestinian suicide bomber from West Bank, who blew herself up on October 4, 2003, in the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, causing the death of 21 people, is instructive. In 1997, her fiancé was killed when she was just 21, and in 2003, her brother and cousin were killed by the Israel Defense Forces. Overpowered by the emotions to avenge the death of her loved ones, she was reported to have uttered these meaningful words before blowing herself up: ‘Your blood will not have been shed in vain. The murderer will yet pay the price, and we will not be the only ones who are crying’ (Kruglanski et al., 2014).
Is revenge-generated-radicalization rooted in society’s culture, or is it the outcome of some mental and psychological condition? A substantial majority of natural and social scientists argue that the emotions to revenge are a mental disease, which is associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms. Since the last century, scholars have also floated the idea that the desire for revenge results from a mental disorder and psychological dysfunction (Mccullough, Kurzban, & Tabak, 2012). In the same stream, Malini and Nagaraja (2017) argue that revenge is indicative of cognitive dissonance that results from mental imbalance. This has led the scholars to believe that revenge motivated radicalization can be cured through a psychiatric treatment in a therapeutic setting. However, what this research argues is that this hypothetical stance is more theoretical than empirical. A number of studies on radicalization and terrorism conclude that radicalized militants are mentally healthy and sound and so, hardly meet the psychiatric criteria for insanity (Sparago, 2007). Moreover, it has been observed that mentally unstable individuals are hard to control and less reliable to conduct a successful attack. For that reason, terrorist organizations are less willing to recruit such individuals (Sparago. 2007).
Revenge for humiliation by an oppressor is rooted in the cultural traditions of many societies around the world since times immemorial (Malini, 2017). However, it has been observed that the tradition of revenge is much deeply entrenched in tribal societies in comparison to settled ones. The reason being that, as these societies lack much of the institutions of civil government such as police and court of laws, there is a strong need for a mechanism of revenge to regulate the behaviour of tribal people so that no one may transgress the moral limits as defined by tribal codes. However, if someone is found guilty of exceeding those normative boundaries, revenge becomes due and must be exacted to correct the wrong and restore face and honour (Ahmed, 2013). As revenge is considered to be an integral part of tribal code of life, it is recognized as not less binding than any other law of the statute book.
Drone Strikes and Collateral Damage
The punitive enforcement strategies, such as targeted killing has not been a new phenomenon to counter extremism and terrorism (Gill, 2014). However, since 9/11, there is a marked reliance on and increase in the frequency of such counter-insurgency techniques, and have been extended to even countries that fall beyond the declared war theatres. Over the years, the use of American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aka, drones have become one of the critical tools to target and kill, instead of capturing, militants and terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal belt, FATA (Zenko, 2013). Drone aircraft have the distinctive features that they are pilotless and are controlled from a remote military base. In the case of Pakistan, drones are remotely operated by the Central Intelligence Agency from its headquarter based in Langley, West Virginia, US, while others argue that they are controlled from U.S.’s military base in Khost, Afghanistan (Khan, 2011).
Since 2004 when drone warfare was launched in the tribal belt in Pakistan, they have proved to be a weapon of insulting humiliation, with every moral boundary crossed and every social structure attacked in the American led war against terror in FATA (Ahmed, 2013). The killing of innocent people including an undeniable number of small schools going kids, women and old aged people, the violation of their religious occasions and disgraceful attacks on gatherings of social importance at will by the American sponsored drone warfare have all helped dash Pashtun’s pride to the ground. Once a proud nation with no power able to subjugate and humiliate them, and living a contented life with greater autonomy, drone strikes and military operations have forced millions of tribal people to flee their homes in search of shelter and live in inhuman conditions as refugees in camps (Ahmed, 2013). In other words, they have been forced to live a life in humiliation which is hurtful as well as painful.
Despite the U.S.’s consistent denial, empirical pieces of evidence support the hypothetical assumption that drone strikes result in collateral damage. However, there remains confusion about the actual number of civilian casualties from drone strikes in FATA, Pakistan. The reason for this confusion is the non-availability of accurate information and data for a variety of reasons. Because of the worsening law and order situation for years in the tribal region, a very limited empirical research has been conducted on the ground to ascertain the number of civilian casualties. Moreover, the U.S. stubbornness not to share or disclose information to the general public about those killed or injured is another major reason for the prevalent confusion about civilian casualties. However, there are organizations and scholars engaged in rigorous research to explore civilian deaths and injuries from drone strikes.
The London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been involved in extensive research on drone strikes and civilian casualties for quite some time. The Bureau reports that a minimum of 427 confirmed drone strikes has been conducted since 2004, resulting in the death of civilians between 424 and 969. These attacks have also led to the death of 172 to 207 children ( Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 2017). However, these figures are far below than the deaths reported by Pakistani officials and private research groups. Dawn, one of the Pakistan leading newspapers, reports that only in 2009, for every militant targeted, 140 civilians also died (Bergen, 2013). Although the authenticity of the report is subject to debate, if the number of civilian casualties they suggest is true, then the figures stand very high.
The New American Foundation has processed a comprehensive database on civilian casualties based on reports from a number of well-known international newspapers such as Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal; The Telegraph and The Guardian; The Express Tribune, Dawn, The Daily Times, Geo TV, and The News; as well as the BBC and CNN (Bergen, 2013). The database suggests that between 454 and 637 non-militants/civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and 2013 (Bergen, 2013). This is quite a high number, given the socio-cultural dynamics of the tribal people where one single death can be a source of bloody enmity that lasts for years and may take the life of many people. Moreover, it is important to note that target precision and accuracy might have improved over the years, but the toll, in the shape of sentiments of anti-Americanism in the wake of unpopular drone warfare, has already taken place.
Scot Shane of The New York Times strongly asserts that independent investigation confirms far more civilian deaths than the U.S. government officials admit in the ongoing drone warfare. The reason, he cites, is that when a missile is fired into a remote tribal territory across the border, the operators are often uncertain about who they are targeting, but try to make an imperfect best guess (Friedersdorf, 2016). Scot’s assertion may be true. Amnesty International reports that on 24th, October 2012, two Hellfire missiles were fired from a drone aircraft in Ghundi Kala village in the North Waziristan, that resulted in the death of 68 years old Manama Bibi, who was collecting vegetables in her family field. Several of her grandchildren received injuries because of shrapnel (AmnestyInternational, 2013). Intelligence sources from Pakistan revealed that one militant had used satellite phone close to the victim’s house some 10 minutes before the strike and then drove on his way (AmnestyInternational, 2013). Close relatives and those living in the neighbourhood testified that there was no element of militants. Moreover, the owner of the house was an educated and retired government servant whose links with terrorist outfits are beyond any question (Open Society Foundations, 2014). This and many other incidents like this speak volume of the fact that drones may not be part of the solution. Instead, it is part of the problem.
There are occasions when civilian casualties are compromised intentionally, especially when a high-value target is involved, and the authorities are more eager not to let the opportunity go. Take, for instance, on August 5 2009, a U.S. Predator targeted the supreme leader of TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, in Zanghara, South Waziristan. Though Mehsud was killed, the strike also resulted in the death of eleven others, including his wife, father in law and mother in law (Mayer, 2009), who, by no means, can be dubbed as militants. Such (un)intentional blunders help expand the sympathy bank for militants, who have often been seen buried with heroic protocol by the locals.
Revenge-Radicalization Nexus in FATA: Empirical Evidence
After having discussed the theory of humiliation-revenge and having established that drone strikes result in civilian casualties in the previous chapters, this chapter seeks to prove the argument that drone strikes provoke the tribal concept of revenge when innocent civilians are killed, leading to the radicalization of tribal people which sometimes motivate the aggrieved people to join the terrorist outfit for violence. The reason being that civilian casualties are perceived to be a sort of humiliation by tribal people that must be fixed by taking revenge to restore one’s honor in the tribal society. The first part of the chapter sets the background by combing the concept of revenge in the Pashtun code of Pashtunwali in FATA, while the second section explores the empirical evidence in regard to revenge-radicalization nexus.
The methodology to be used in this chapter is secondary sources of documents analysis. In this regard, newspaper articles, articles from research journals, books and reports will be consulted to support my argument.
There is a Pashto proverb: kill one enemy and make ten (Judson, 2013). It is argued here that civilian casualties from drone strikes in FATA have been a powerful source of radicalization. The reason being that Pashtuns in tribal belt see drone strikes as a source of humiliation that triggers their cultural ridden norm to seek revenge against the U.S. forces and its allies. On the other hand, local and trans-national militant organizations have manipulated and exploited these sentiments of revenge to inspire further radicalization and recruit for more violence.
Polling from Pakistan indicates that there is an increased desire to retaliate against the U.S. after every drone strike, especially when the strike involves the death of civilians (Hari, 2010). Professor John Cole explains the same phenomenon more bluntly. He says that it is not rocket science as the logic is quite simple. ‘When you bomb and kill their mother, brothers and other loved ones, and when they see them in thousands of bloody pieces scattered all around, it pisses them up. The result would be that even those who earlier had no sympathies or desire to join militant organizations, now join them in revenge’ (Hari, 2010). However, in the case of FATA, this spirit for retaliation is driven primarily by centuries-old tribal traditions and social norms.
The words of Faisal Shehzad recorded in the courtroom are instructive in this regard. When asked about the possible death of children in the courtroom by the judge if the bomb had detonated, Shehzad, an American born Pakistani replied, ‘When the drones hit, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody... I am part of the answer... I’m avenging the attack’ (Hari, 2010). Shehzad, an ethnic Pashtun by birth, who is believed to have visited FATA many times before making an unsuccessful attempt to detonate a bomb at the crowded Time Square in the U.S., made no secret of his revengeful sentiments.
The family system in FATA is joint and extended. Everyone in the family is connected to the rest, both emotionally and physically. For that reason, the death of one innocent man doesn’t mean simply an end to him. As everyone, including dead, is owned by many, the spirit for revenge is kept alive. ‘Nevertheless, every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased’ (Exum & Mcdonald, 2009).
In the same vein, Imran Khan, chairman, Pakistan Tehrek e Ensaf, a mainstream political party in Pakistan, is a diehard opponent of drone strikes because he thinks that it feeds militancy. He opines that those who suffer losses in the shape of collateral damages seeks revenge, which in such situations is a possible reason to radicalize Pashtuns from the tribal belt. In one of his interviews, Khan revealed that Jaffer Mehsud, who had conducted a suicide attack in Ghazni, Afghanistan against the NATO forces primarily to avenge the death of his cousin who had been killed in a drone strike (Siddique, 2013). On another occasion, when there was a drone strike in Damadola, Bajaur that killed 82 people, including 12 teenagers. A majority of those killed were claimed to be innocent, one of the parents whose child was also killed later joined the Taliban group and carried out a suicide attack (Siddique, 2013).
The indiscriminate use of military force may not deter terrorism but often results in the vicious cycle of retaliation. Syed Akhunzada Chittan, who was a member of National Assembly from FATA in the previous government (2008-13), has raised concerns about the counter-productivity of drone strikes. In one of his interviews, he claimed that for every innocent civilian killed, many more militants are born. Being a tribal himself, Chittan understands well that Pashtuns from FATA are too revengeful, especially when it comes to avenging the death of dear ones (IHRCRC, 2012). ‘Blood for blood’, this is what a resident from Waziristan had to say who lost his younger brother in a drone strike. One other young man from FATA who had lost his close relative to drone strikes recorded his sentiments to International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic in these words; ‘we will not forget our blood, for two hundred, two thousand, five thousand years—we will take our revenge for these drone attacks’ (IHRCRC, 2012).
The sentiments of rage and fury are boosted by the way these people are killed. As missiles fired from the drone are too powerful, capable of crushing the internal organs through shrapnel and forceful blast waves. Often those killed are even hard to identify. One survivor described the scene at the site of a drone strike that killed some 40 innocent people in these words; ‘The community had to collect [the victims’] body pieces and bones and then bury them like that, doing their best to identify the pieces and the body parts so that the relatives at the funeral would be satisfied they had the right parts of the body and the right person’ (IHRCRC, 2012).
The death of their loved ones in a brutal manner, which most of the Pashtuns see as disgraceful, can easily convince the victims to take the path of insurgency and violent militancy against the perpetrators in revenge. For example, Zubair, a victim of airstrike while on his way back, could see many villagers from a distance gathered at his house. As he rushed closer, ‘he saw his mother's severed head lying amid mangled furniture’. However, ‘he didn't cry nor made any complaint. Instead, he picked up the head, cradled it in his arms, and started walking aimlessly. He carried on like this for days, until tribal elders pried the head from his hands and convinced him to deal with his loss more constructively. He decided he would get revenge by becoming a suicide bomber and inflicting a loss on some American family as painful as the one he had just suffered’ (Gopal, 2017).
What has been seen on many occasions is that the drone strikes have killed civilians who carry greater social status and financial responsibilities, whose death often brings irreparable loss to the family. Take, for example, Malik Ismail Khan, who was killed in a drone strike, was the sole breadwinner for a large family of eight (Judson, 2013). Data reveals that since 2004, drone strikes have killed a large number of Maliks; men with years of experience and wisdom who hold government positions. The desire for revenge is stronger in a situation where the death of an important family member is involved because such events leave the victims with a pessimistic outlook of future life. Moreover, the death of such a person of eminence brings grief and humiliation not only to members of the family but to the entire tribe. All these factors contribute heavily to reinforce feelings of revenge.
A drone strike that killed 40 people in March 2011, most influential and respectable communal elders whose death was mourned by the entire tribal region. The attack caused increased fury and leaders from North Waziristan who, in a unanimous voice, vowed to avenge the death. ‘We are people who wait for 100 years to exact revenge. We never forgive our enemy,’ those from tribal belt uttered these words in a press conference held at Peshawar after the attack (News, 2011). One could see an upsurge in violence after these strikes, especially suicide attacks against security forces of Pakistan, for being a close ally of America in the war against terror (Meo, 2009). Because after every drone strike, a new and fresh bunch of aspired avengers appear in radicalization, it gives a boost to insurgency and violence.
Tribal traditions assert that if anyone killed unlawfully and if his innocence is established, the culprit must apologize and pay the blood money in compensation to settle the blood feud. However, the blood feud continues unless the revenge is exacted if the convict refuses to pay the compensation called Diyat (Pascoe, 2015). Setting the apology and compensation aside, America has denied even the killing of civilians by drone strikes. For this reason, the U.S. officials have not made any coordinated efforts to make compensation for strike victims in FATA, though compensation packages for civilian casualties exist in Afghanistan. The reason being that they don’t acknowledge any civilian casualties from drone strikes in FATA.
The Ultimate Beneficiary of Drone Warfare
Banned militant organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban have emerged the ultimate beneficiaries of the revengeful feelings and traditions in the troubled zone of FATA. Over the years, drones have alternated Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for organizations like al-Qaeda and the Taliban (Becker & Shane, 2012). Reports suggest that all the people close to Bin Laden who have been interviewed are unanimous in their opinion that he (Bin Laden) is delighted when he sees the Americans killing the innocent Muslims indiscriminately (Hari, 2010). The reason is that it not only validates his principal slogan and narrative that America is evil; it has also provided the militant organizations with a new pipeline of revenge ridden recruits.
Data suggests that a significant number of captured militants have cited the reason to seek and exact revenge for drone strikes as the motive to join militant organizations. Interestingly the narrative of revenge is frequently reflected in the rhetoric of the Taliban (Widmark, 2010). In this regard, the U.N.’s report in 2007 indicated that the principal motive for suicide attacks was to avenge those civilians killed in American airstrikes while in another report in 2008, a survey of 42 Taliban commanders revealed that 12 of these fighters had seen their family members killed by airstrikes and 6 of them joined insurgency to exact revenge (Sluka, 2013). According to The Telegraph, video films recorded by the militant organizations depict teenage being trained as suicide bombers to take revenge against the security forces. Most of them have successfully executed what they had been groomed for (Meo, 2009). However, the question is why these victims have launched this revenge ridden radicalization from the platform of organized militant outfits?
In the first instance, FATA has been home to many terrorist networks with training camps and offices. Resultantly, the absence of a physical gap between the militant leaders and the aspirants has worked to the advantage of militant organizations. Anyone who seeks revenge finds channels and opportunities to join these organizations with considerable ease. Moreover, the two are wedded in a marriage of convenience. Importantly, the drone victims who seek revenge and militant organizations share the notion of ‘common enemy’ in the form of America. As individuals seeking revenge lack resources to wage war against a giant power like America effectively, they join these organizations in the hope to inflict maximum damage on their enemy.
The partnership is further facilitated by the shared commonalities in terms of socio-cultural identities. Both the actors; leaders and members of the Tehrek e Taliban Pakistan and the ‘aspirant avengers’ in FATA come from the same Pashtun ethnic background. They share the same dress code; they speak the same Pashto language; they share the same religion and belief system. While on the other hand, the enmity of America, portrayed as an outer group that has been blamed of invading many Muslim countries, has further helped the two to come closer and join hands.