Picture credit: Reuters
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration declared a worldwide "war on terror," involving open and covert military operations, new security legislation, efforts to block the financing of terrorism, and more. Washington called on other states to join in the fight against terrorism asserting that "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Many governments joined this campaign, often adopting harsh new laws, lifting long-standing legal protections and stepping up domestic policing and intelligence work.
Critics charge that the "war on terrorism" is an ideology of fear and repression that creates enemies and promotes violence rather than mitigating acts of terror and strengthening security. The worldwide campaign has too often become an excuse for governments to repress opposition groups and disregard international law and civil liberties. Governments should address terrorism through international cooperation, using international law and respecting civil liberties and human rights. Governments should also address the root causes of terrorism, notably political alienation due to prejudice, state-sponsored violence and poverty.
This site deals with the idea and practice of the "war on terrorism." Materials critically analyze the "war" and its consequences. The site looks at terrorism's history and root causes and how the concept has been used and abused.
Targeted killing and the 'War on Terror' (October 18, 2011)
The recent targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen by the US has started a renewed debate over US counter-terrorism policies. The targeted elimination of US citizen and radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki for his alleged role as a terrorist affiliate raises troubling international legal questions. This demonstrates how the US justifies any means in the name of security, similar to the justifications used to explain the detainee interrogation practices used after 9/11. Critics of the killing have focused heavily on Awlaki’s US citizenship, and the obligation of the government to protect its citizens for harm. (Al Jazeera)
Should Bin Laden Have Been Tried? (May 3, 2011)
The death of Osama bin Laden is being celebrated across the US. This article however highlights how the extra-judicial killing of bin Laden by the US military undermines the rule of law and paints an ugly picture of the Obama administration. Whether or not a trial would have provided satisfaction to the victims of 9/11, this article argues that retribution through killing will only exacerbate tensions and destabilize the judicial process. (Open Democracy)
U.N. Reports Mixed Results on Afghan Poppy Crops (September 30, 2010)
Afghanistan modestly reduced its poppy cultivation this year in Helmand province though nationwide production has remained the same or increased. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that the decrease is mainly the result of blight, despite a government initiative and Western aid. The report states that increasing poppy prices could undercut the efforts to reduce cultivation in the coming year. Nearly all cultivation occurs in the country's least secure provinces. (The New York Times)
The Real War on Terror Must Begin (August 23, 2010)
While the US spends $12bn every month indicting its "war on terror," it has so far pledged pocket change to aid the 20 million displaced Pakistani's. In this article from Al Jazeera, Mark Levine argues that if a peaceful future is to be secured for Pakistan and the wider world, relief aid is an ill advised area for the US to be fiscally prudent. He suggests the US "war on terror" needs to be fundamentally rethought to consider relief, rebuilding and the struggle against poverty and hardship. And in the "multigenerational" campaign against Al-Qaida, more resources should be allocated towards reconstruction, than are used for purposes of destruction. (Al Jazeera)
The Secret Killers: Covert Assassins Charged With Hunting Down and Killing Afghans(August 29, 2010)
In Afghanistan, secret military teams have been given a mandate to pursue alleged members of "terrorists" and are seen as "manhunting" operations with the units assigned to them as "capture/kill" teams. Wikileaks has published the mass of secret U.S. military and intelligence documents that reveal how capture/kill teams have left a trail of dead civilian bodies. The covert "joint" teams involving the CIA and various military special operations forces are a key part of a new military "doctrine" developed in 1980 and came to be known as "find, fix, finish, and follow-up" missions, denoting how alleged terrorists are to be dealt with. Military experts are disquieted by the creation of such global hunter-killer teams who regularly kill civilians in their raids on supposed "targets." (Alternet)
Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents (August 14, 2010)
The shadow “war against terrorism” began in the Bush administration but expanded under President Obama, who ironically became popular due to his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. The United States has increased military and intelligence operations in a dozen countries. These shadow wars have fuelled anti-American rage; blurred the lines between soldiers and spies;weakened Congressional oversight and led to a reliance on authoritarian foreign leader. (The New York Times)
CIA Whisked Detainees from Guantanamo Before Giving Access to Lawyers (August 6, 2010)
Four "high-value" prisoners were flown out of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility just months after they arrived in 2003, before the Supreme Court could grant them access to lawyers. They were transferred to a CIA "black site" for two years of interrogation, during which time they could not speak with attorneys or human rights observers. The AP discovered that top White House, Justice Department, Pentagon and CIA officials were involved in the prisoner transfer, which law professor Jonathon Hafetz called "a shell game to hide detainees from the courts." This incident suggests that Washington is willing to go to great lengths to keep "valuable" prisoners outside the US court system. (Huffington Post)
Mutilated Afghan Girl Aisha in US for New Nose (August 6, 2010)
A TIME Magazine cover featuring a young Afghan woman whose nose had been cut off by the Taliban sparked fierce debate about the issue's message. The cover's title suggested that such crimes against women would increase if the US-led military force were to leave Afghanistan prematurely. Many have claimed that TIME engaged in "emotional blackmail" and exploited "gender politics to pitch for the status quo-a continued US military involvement." Women's lives have not improved overall as a result of the war (read GPF's previous posting on this issue, below). Telling Aisha's story may raise awareness about the plight of women in Afghanistan, but drawing a connection between her situation and the US occupation is both inaccurate and manipulative. (BBC)
The Guantanamo Paradox (August 6, 2010)
More than 170 men who have not been convicted, or in some cases even charged with a criminal offense, are being kept in indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay. As the Obama administration moves forward with the military trials at the detention facility, it is difficult to see how the President is fulfilling his commitment to "re-establishing our [US] credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law." For all of President Obama's rhetoric about closing Guantanamo and providing fair trials for the detainees, he has been unable to translate these promises into reality. The maintenance of Guantanamo is just one of the ways in which this administration continues to resemble that of George W. Bush. (Crimes of War Project)
Western Wars Vs Muslim Women (August 5, 2010)
The Time Magazine's cover story on the plight of Afghan women contributes to justifying the war on humanitarian "civilizing" grounds instead of criticizing it on the same grounds. Military solutions to social problems fail to make the distinction between Islam and the Taliban or explain how women's rights can be attained by such means. This author suggests that "the war to liberate the women of Afghanistan," is more concerned with promoting "men's wars" rather than women's rights, whilst Muslim women are being progressively silenced in this discursive battle. (Al-Jazeera)
Engendering New Discourses (May 17, 2010)
This author suggests Pakistani women are central to the ideological battleground between the Taliban and the US military: the former using Islamic extremism to exclude women from the public sphere, the latter using western notions of liberation and progress to orchestrate women's unveiling. Although driven by contrasting ideologies, both serve to further disempower women from decision making. Security Council Resolution 1325 highlighted the contributions that women can make to conflict prevention and resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Yet this suppression of female agency in Pakistan denies the importance of women's equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security. (The Express Tribune)
VIDEO: TIME Magazine Cover Explains What Happens to Aghan Women If "We Leave Afghanistan," But That Tragedy is Already Occurring (July 29, 2010)
A photograph on the cover of a recent issue of TIME Magazine depicts an Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban when she was caught trying to escape from abusive family members. The image is intended to remind the reader of "what happens if we leave Afghanistan." An accompanying article argues that women's rights would be destroyed if the US military settled with the Taliban and left the region. However, despite the lofty rhetoric about "freeing" the women of Afghanistan, the US-supported government of Hamid Karzai has not implemented policies to help women in any substantial way. In this Brave New Films video, numerous experts show that conditions for women have actually deteriorated as a result of the US-led occupation. (Huffington Post)
US Drone Strikes Draw International Scrutiny (May 31, 2010)
The CIA uses unmanned drones to carry out targeted killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan raising serious questions of legality. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapportuer on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions will deliver a report on June 3 to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva which argues that drone use should be restricted to the US military. The report says that the "life and death" power of drones should be entrusted to regular armed forces and not intelligence agencies like the CIA which have much less transparent oversight. It is unlikely that the Obama Administration will alter its policy, as drone attacks have become an increasingly important tactic in US "counter terrorism operations" in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (IPS)
At West Point, Obama offers new Security Strategy (May 23, 2010)
In a commencement speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, President Obama set out a new national security doctrine which attempts to distance his administration from George W Bush's policy of "distinctly US internationalism." Obama pledged to shape a new "international order" based on diplomacy and engagement to resolve such global challenges as "violent extremism and insurgency", nuclear weapons, climate change and preventing conflict. However, as he calls for global cooperation, Obama has intensified the US war in Afghanistan and secret operations in the Middle East. (Washington Post)
Detainees Barred from Access to US Courts (May 21, 2010)
A US Court of Appeals ruled that three men, who were captured outside Afghanistan and have been detained for years without trial, have no right to habeas corpus hearings in US Courts as Bagram is "on the sovereign territory of another government." If the precedent stands, it will provide further justification for the Obama Administration's policy of detaining terrorism suspects overseas for indefinite periods to avoid judicial oversight. (New York Times)
Drones and Democracy (May 18, 2010)
U.S. drone attacks continue to devastate civilians in Pakistan yet remain shrouded in secrecy. Pakistanis learn nothing of the attacks, and U.S. newspaper reports mention no more than a few words on the location of the strike and the estimated death toll. Victims and witnesses of these attacks openly question the legitimacy of a strategy that kills many innocent civilians and only serves to instill anti-American hatred in the local population. These victims link indifference and inaction on drone warfare to the state of U.S. democracy: "What kind of democracy is America where people do not ask these questions?" (CommonDreams)
Judges Ban Secret Evidence in Guantanamo Compensation Case (May 5, 2010)
Six former Guantanamo Bay prisoners are claiming civil damages against the UK Government alleging that the MI5 and MI6 "aided and abetted their unlawful imprisonment" at numerous locations around the world, including Guantanamo Bay, where they were tortured. Controversially, the UK Government asked for the trial to be heard under the "closed material procedure" meaning that the claimants would not see large parts of the evidence being used by the Government to defend the allegations. The High Court denied the Government's request, with Lord Neuberger stating that "it would undermine one of the most fundamental principles of the common law," the right of a party to know the case again him. (The Times)
A Kinder, Gentler Gitmo (April 22, 2010)
After his inauguration, President Barak Obama signed an Executive Order mandating more humane conditions for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the closure of the prison within a year. With the January 22 deadline passed, the detention camp reflects the Obama Administration's failure to change US national security policy from the framework of the Bush Administration's "War on Terror." While the new administration has prohibited torture and inhuman treatment, the defining injustice of Guantanamo - the indefinite imprisonment of individuals without charge or trial - remains. (The American Prospect)
New Rules on Terror Custody Being Drafted (April 15, 2010)
On taking office, President Obama pledged to close Guantanamo Bay prison and abolish many of the detainee practices of the George W. Bush administration. The Obama administration is currently drafting "classified guidelines" to determine whether new captured terrorist suspects should be placed in long-term detention or whether they should be prosecuted. The guidelines will also provide answers on where to hold them and how to interrogate them. Bagram air base in Afghanistan appears to be the favoured location, in part because prisoners there are denied access to United States courts. (LA Times)
George W. Bush 'Knew Guantanamo Prisoners Were Innocent' (April 9, 2010)
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has revealed that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up the imprisonment of hundreds of innocent men in Guantánamo Bay. According to Wilkerson, they feared that releasing these prisoners would jeopardize their push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror. This is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush administration. Wilkerson made the accusations in support of a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee against a list of American officials. (The Times)
The Guantanamo "Suicides:"A Camp Delta Sergeant Blows the Whistle (March 2010)
On June 9, 2006, three prisoners at Guantanamo died suddenly and violently with Rear Admiral Harry Harris quick to declare the deaths "suicides." According to the US Naval Criminal Investigative Serivce documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and t-shirts, was able to bind their own hands, stuff rags into their throats and tie the noose to the top of the cell's eight-foot-high steel-mesh walls. Evidence suggests that the Obama administration has failed to seriously investigate the deaths and may have continued a cover-up of the possible homicides of these prisoners. (Harpers Magazine)
Habeas Challenges for Bagram Prisoners (March 1, 2010)
The US Government has detained an unknown number of prisoners at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan since 2002, some of whom have been held for up to six years without charge or a fair hearing. Concerned that Bagram has become the new Guantanamo, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed habeas corpus petitions to allow four prisoners access to lawyers and the opportunity to challenge in court the legality of their detention. (IPS)
Lindsey Graham: White House Mulling Indefinite Detention (February 16, 2010)
According to Senator Lindsey Graham, the White House is again considering a "preventative detention" statute to govern persons held at Guantanamo Bay. The proposed statute would assist in the closing of Guantanamo Bay and govern the detention of persons, by the US government, outside the criminal justice system. There is concern from Human Rights Watch that the statute would "turn the anomaly of Guantanamo Bay into a permanent legal norm" and would give future President's the unfettered authority to detain people without trial "not because they were captured on a military battlefield but because they are considered a threat against national security." (Politico)
UN Secret Detention Report Asks, "Where are the CIA Ghost Prisoners?" (January 28, 2010)
A study conducted by a group of UN Special Rapporteurs has concluded that "secret detention in connection with counterterrorist policies remains a serious problem." The study, conducted by four independent UN human rights experts, details secret detention practices used by the US in the "Global War on Terror" and expresses concern over the fate of dozens of persons still held in secret CIA run prisons. (Truthout)
The Joint Post/Obama defense of the Patriot Act and FISA (October 6, 2009)
The US administration has been exploiting a recently foiled terrorist coup, the Najibullah Ziza case, to justify the Patriot and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Acts. Such fear mongering resembles the behavior of the previous administration. By publicly connecting the Patriot Act with prevented terrorist attacks the administration misleadingly suggests that the plot could not or would not have been thwarted without recourse to such extreme surveillance measures. (Salon)
The Difference Between "Legal" and "Illegal" (September 8, 2009)
In 2006 the British police thwarted a terrorist plot with the help of US and British electronic surveillance. Some polemicists used this to justify illegal government surveillance programs. However the information used in 2006 had been obtained legally, thus invalidating this justification. This foiled attack shows that governments do not need to resort to illegitimate activities to successfully fight terrorism. (Salon)
US Takes the Russian Route to Afghanistan; Wonder What They're Thinking in Moscow (July 7, 2009)
Russia recently agreed to allow US troops and weapons to fly over its territory on the way to war in Afghanistan. Russia apparently believes that US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are effectively defending Russia's southern flank. Washington's war in Afghanistan is likely to last longer than the Soviet Union's war in the country, which began in late 1979 and ended in early 1989.(CommonDreams)
Who the Hell is Stanley McChrystal? (May 19, 2009)
General David McKiernan was suddenly fired earlier in May over his failure to stop the escalating violence in Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, a former US Special Forces commander, officially took charge of the nearly 90,000 US and NATO-led troops fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. General McChrystal, also known as "the Pope," is notorious for promoting torture techniques in counterterrorism. He has brought together military and intelligence operations to produce controversial battlefield results. The decision of the Obama administration to appoint McChrystal reflects a commitment to large scale, long term "special operations" involving further global military escalation. (Esquire)
Rebranding War & Occupation (June 18, 2009)
Barack Obama promised a major shift in U.S. foreign policy. However, after five months in office, Obama's policies seem to reflect considerable continuity with earlier administrations. He has raised U.S. military spending and has added more than 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. It is clear that U.S. foreign policies are largely formed by long-standing economic and political interests and not so much by the electoral process. (Zmag)
"War on Terror" Was a Mistake, Says Miliband (January 15, 2009)
During a speech in Mumbai, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband criticized the "war on terror" and qualified it as "misleading and mistaken." Miliband stated that instead of reducing potential terrorist threats, the military reaction created more resentment and backlash. He praised diplomacy over a military response contrary to the position he held four years ago (Guardian)
"Remember Pearl Harbor!" (December 7, 2008)
The author of this article draws parallels between the attacks on Pearl Harbor by Japan in 1941 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because it perceived the US as a threat to its national interest. According to the "preemptive war" doctrine, which the US used to justify the 2003 attack, the US has the right to use force whenever its interests may be threatened. Both actions are breaches of international law, as the use of military force is illegal unless used in response to a prior attack. (Truthout)
Secret Order Lets US Raid Al Qaeda (November 10, 2008)
In 2004 president George Bush issued an executive order authorizing military action in Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and several other Persian Gulf states. Using this order, the US military has conducted nearly 12 previously undisclosed attacks. This broadened the ground rules in the "Global War on Terror" and also removed sensitive military operations from the previous process of oversight and review. (New York Times)
Legislating Tyranny: Bush's War on Civil Liberties (June 3, 2008)
The Bush administration assaults civil liberties under the guise of the "war on terror," and not many US citizens express alarm. With vague definitions of "terrorist" and "enemy combatant," police can arrest and imprison any US citizen based on suspicion and without evidence. President Bush also abuses power in the executive branch by sidestepping the Supreme Court, weakening Congress, and disregarding the Constitution. With his exercise of arbitrary and undefined power, the US is "sliding toward dictatorship" and falling away from democracy. (Counterpunch)
US Accused of Holding Terror Suspects on Prison Ships (June 2, 2008)
The US military holds detainees on secret "floating prisons", before transporting them to undisclosed detention centers, according to human rights organization Reprieve. The US uses ships such as the USS Bataan, Peleliu and Ashland to hold prisoners without legal representation or a right to trial. Reprieve reports that the US military keeps many of the prisoners in cages and subjects them to physical abuse. Since 2001, the US has held approximately 80,000 detainees, 26,000 of which remain in secret prisons. (Guardian)
Al-Qaeda and the "War on Terrorism" (January 20, 2008)
This Global Research article argues that propaganda for the "war on terrorism" disregards the historical link between al-Qaeda and the US. The CIA created al-Qaeda during the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979 and also brought the heroin drug trade to Afghanistan. Further, the CIA used the Pakistani military intelligence apparatus (ISI) as a "go-between" to provide funding, arms, and training to groups in Chechnya, Kashmir, Kosovo, and China. The author argues that the "war on terrorism" is instead an excuse to expand US military domination.
Just Counter-Terrorism (July 5, 2007)
"Only when we put terrorism in proper perspective can we start to think about appropriate solutions," argues this Foreign Policy in Focus article. With regard to its "acuity, its scope, and its likely duration," terrorism does not pose as great a threat as global warming, nuclear proliferation, disease, and conventional war. The authors claim that the Bush administration has used US citizens' fear to amplify the threat of terrorism and initiate a preventative war against it – a campaign as "meaningless" as "declaring war on serial murderers." Instead, they suggest that Washington tackle detrimental political and economic injustices.
Introduction to "Selling US Wars" (March 2007)
This excerpt from the book "Selling US Wars" by Tariq Ali analyzes the theories and mechanisms employed by the US to "ensure indirect domination" worldwide. One of the justifications the US gives for the extension of its sphere of influence is the "global war on terror," which the author states is an unacceptable form of "political violence terror." Ali also asserts that Washington's selectivity in enforcing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is another tactic in its pursuit of regional and global ambitions. Moreover, the author criticizes the use of "humanitarian intervention" and "democratization" as reasons for military invasions. (Transnational Institute)
The Axis of Intervention (July 27, 2006)
This Foreign Policy in Focus article cites a growing trend towards unilateral military action as opposed to multilateral diplomacy in solving conflicts. The US and Israel have justified "preventative war" under the "War on Terrorism." Meanwhile, Japan threatens to preemptively attack North Korea, jeopardizing its "peace constitution." This dangerous policy threatens to undermine the institutions of international law and global agreements such as the Geneva Conventions.
Global Responses to Global Threats: Sustainable Security for the 21st Century (June 2006)
This Oxford Research Group report argues that the main causes of conflict stem from global climate change, competition over resources, "marginalization of the majority world," and global militarism. These issues, combined with a military approach to terrorism, and the spread of fear-inducing propaganda, detract from realistic peace-building solutions. The authors report that unless world leaders tackle these four causes and refrain from promoting global militarism and waging wars on terrorism, the global system will become irrevocably unstable.
The Logic of Suicide Terrorism: It's the Occupation, Not the Fundamentalism (July 18, 2005)
This interview from the American Conservative showcases expert Robert Pape's detailed analysis of the roots of suicide terrorism. His central finding is that, overwhelmingly, "suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel [foreign occupiers] to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland." A "demand-driven" phenomena, Pape notes that "the suicide terrorists have been produced by the invasion" in Iraq and other countries.
On Suspicion of Not Being One of Us (April 2005)
The intelligence services are working hand in hand with industries who profit from war to create a dangerous environment of paranoia. These "merchants of fear" have filled the post-cold war "vacancy for a subversive global conspiracy" with a new enemy, Islam. Their own obsessions and the desire to justify their continued power have led to the framing of community tensions and other social issues as security threats, and a pervasive climate of distrust. (Le Monde Diplomatique)
US Terror War â€˜Over-Reaction,' Top Judge Says (January 17, 2005)
Richard Goldstone, first chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, says the global "war on terror" threatens international justice. He points to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisoner abuse as reasons for more judicial oversight, and suggests UN Security Council reform as a way of "protecting the rule of law." (Toronto Star)
Poverty, Disease, Environmental Decline Are True 'Axis of Evil' (January 12, 2005)
The State of the World 2005 Report from the Worldwatch Institute argues that the "war on terror" is diverting world's attention from more serious threats to global instability. Poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation create conditions in which extremism thrives and new conflicts emerge. Dealing with these challenges requires preventive engagement rather than use of brute military force.
The Making of the Terror Myth (October 15, 2004)
This Guardian article states that a general consensus between governments, security services and the media has created a "terror myth," an imagined danger of organized terrorism, maintained through a "jittery media-driven democracy."
Al-Qaida Brand Name Ready for Franchise (September 1, 2004)
This article compares al Qaeda to a transnational business organization with a "promising future as a brand name." It gives several examples illustrating that the terrorist organization's reputation acts as self-recruiting function for activist groups wishing to commit acts of violence in its name. (Le Monde diplomatique)
The Clash Thesis: A Failing Ideology? (August 24, 2004)
The discourse of hate is an ongoing theme in the "war on terrorism." More than a motive it now comprises an ideology justifying all actions against entities representing the ever-growing category of "terrorists." The article claims that this has created a new right for "great powers" "to convert phony wars into real ones." (Dissident Voice)
'The Lesser Evil': Fight Fire With Fire (July 25, 2004)
Michael Ignatieff believes that the use of pre-emptive war, assassination, limited torture and indefinite detention without trial might be "the lesser evil" in the fight against terrorism. In this review, Ronald Steel charges that Ignatieff's latest book lacks "any serious political analysis" of terrorism, and ultimately amounts to "an elegantly packaged manual of national self-justification." (New York Times)
The Politics of Poverty, Aid in the New Cold War (May 2004)
Governments that divert aid relief funds to anti-terrorism efforts exacerbate the suffering of the world's poorest people, argues Christian Aid. This report points out that the US government diverted a US $2.2 billion aid program for Afghanistan in 2004 to military projects and emergency relief.
G7 to Combat Terrorism with Airline Cash Inspections (April 27, 2004)
G7 officials are discussing ways to tackle cross-border cash movements as part of the "war on terror." According to the Financial Action Task Force, the proposal includes making international travelers file currency declarations and X-ray scan for cash, as well as weapons at airports. Will these attempts really help preventing terrorist attacks? (International Relations and Security Network)
Terrorism in Historical Perspective (April 22, 2004)
This article seeks to explain the concept of terrorism during different periods of time stretching back to the 20th century. The author argues that terrorism is a global problem in cause and in impact; therefore, understanding the background of terrorism is one of the important ways in addressing this world security threat. (OpenDemocracy)
Banker Presses Aid for Poor to Fight Terror (April 22, 2004)
World Bank President James Wolfensohn highlights an increasing imbalance in world governments' spending, noting that governments spend $900 billion annually on defense and only $56 billion on development assistance. Wolfensohn argues that changing spending priorities focusing on development of poor countries would help to defeat terrorism. (New York Times)
Why the Qaeda Threat Is Growing (March 17, 2004)
As Al-Qaeda becomes "brand-name terrorism," many other groups commit themselves loyally to bin Laden's idea of "global jihad against the US and its allies." (Time Magazine)
"Terrorism": A World Ensnared by a Word (February 18, 2004)
The author argues people often use and abuse the word "terrorism" by applying it to "whatever they hate," as a way of "avoiding rational thought and discussion and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral conduct." (International Herald Tribune)
The Non-Debate over Suicide Bombing (January 29, 2004)
This article argues that informed debate about suicide bombing is "long overdue." The author suggests the phenomenon warrants neither sympathy nor blanket condemnation but a better understanding of the motivations of suicide bombers. (Arab Media Watch)
Muddying the World's Conscience (January 9, 2004)
The "war on terror" reformulates many aspects of world politics and the international NGO sector. In the US and elsewhere, ultra-conservative thinktanks have recently set up units to monitor and investigate the NGO sector. NGOs operating in "war on terror" conflicts feel pressured to either act as "sub-contractors for the superpower or pull out." (Guardian)
In April 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the Pakistani Taliban was a “mortal threat” to the world.1 By that time, militants associated with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or the “Pakistani Taliban’’) were closing in on the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, having already seized much of the Pashtun belt. Clinton’s apprehensions were not unfounded. Many, if not most, of the Islamist terrorist conspiracies disrupted or executed in Europe have had footprints in Pakistan’s tribal belt. The specter of the Taliban rampaging through the capital conjured corresponding fears that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal—or elements thereof—would fall into the hands of Islamist militants, even though those fears were surely misplaced.
Concerns across the international community over Pakistan’s commitment and ability to repel the militants and restore the writ of law have been motivated by Pakistan’s lackluster track record. Past operations to combat domestic militants have been furtive, with varying degrees of dedication, and even greater variation in efficacy. Worse, many ended in defeat, sealed through peace deals that were cast in terms favorable to the militants. This is true even though as many as 1,100 security forces have perished in these battles and another 2,800 injured as of June 2009.2
While the army’s commitment to battling this internal threat has been suspect in international capitals—much less its nonexistent efforts to eliminate the Afghan Taliban from its territory and to curb Islamist militants operating in India from its territory—the Pakistani public has not supported its government’s participation in the U.S.-led war on terror. Worse yet, until the spring of 2009, Pakistan’s citizens have been hesitant to embrace their own war on terror despite the persistent encroachment of the Pakistani Taliban, with their micro-emirates of Shariah and the expansion of suicide bombing against Pakistani targets (police, paramilitary, military and government officials).
While the shortcomings of the security forces have been frequently commented upon, Pakistan’s public commitment to eliminating these militants has largely remained beyond the purview of scholarly commentary. Yet, contrary to popular belief, public sentiment does constrain military as well as political options in Pakistan, as evidenced by the eventual resignation of President Pervez Musharraf amidst calls for impeachment. This is evermore true with the return of civilian governance, however inept it may be.
Pakistani public attitudes are critical to Pakistan’s ability and political will to stay involved in military operations against the militants. This essay explores the Pakistani public’s attitudes about the militants targeting their own state and the state’s efforts to contend with these threats.3 To do so, this essay employs several data sets collected since the events of 9/11, including urban data collected in the summer of 2007 in a study commissioned by the author under the auspices of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in collaboration with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).4 It also draws from the urban data collected by the Pew Global Attitudes Project,as well as several years of data collected by the International Republican Institute (IRI), which was fielded among a robust, nationally representative sample.5 IRI’s most recent publicly released poll was fielded in July-August 2009. Finally, this essay employs nationwide data from May 2009 collected by PIPA in collaboration with the author.6
This essay is organized as follows: first, the paper provides a brief overview of militant groups operating in and from Pakistan and the interconnections that exist among them. This is critical to understanding where the TTP exists within the landscape of Pakistan’s myriad militant groups. Next it exposits, according to different data, how Pakistanis perceive the threat posed by Islamist militant groups operating in and from their country. It then examines Pakistanis’ beliefs about their government’s approach to handing militancy, including military means, negotiating with militants and allying itself with the United States. Where appropriate, it will provide analyses of how these issues are viewed differently by respondents across Pakistan’s four provinces. The essay concludes with some reflections on the policy implications of its principle findings.
Pakistan’s Militant Landscape7
Numerous militant groups have operated from and within Pakistan for decades. Some of these have traditionally focused upon Kashmir, including the Deobandi groups of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Harkat-ul-Ansar/Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUA/HUM), Ahl-e-Hadith organizations such as Punjab-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jamaat-e-Islami associated groups such as Hizbul Mujahideen and Al Badr. While these groups are often referred to as “Kashmiri groups,” this is a misnomer as they have few ethnic Kashmiris among their ranks and most of these groups do not operate exclusively in Kashmir. These so-called Kashmiri groups are widely viewed as assets of the state, raised and supported by the Pakistani security establishment to carry out Pakistan’s interests in India. Other Pakistan-based groups have traditionally focused upon sectarian targets such as the Deobandi anti-Shia groups, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Many of these Deobandi groups share overlapping membership with each other and with the religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).8
In addition, from the 1970s through September 2001, Pakistan also supported numerous Pashtun militias to secure its interests in Afghanistan, the most notorious of which was the Afghan Taliban. While Pakistan has been nominally allied to the United States in its effort to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to host apex Afghan Taliban leadership who, along with Al Qaeda, enjoy sanctuary in the Pashtun territories of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)9 and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) as well as key cities throughout Pakistan.10
Since 2004 Pakistan has witnessed the emergence of a cluster of militant groups whose activists describe themselves as “Pakistani Taliban” and who, since then, have successfully established an archipelago of micro-emirates of Shariah within large swathes of the Pashtun belt inclusive of the FATA and the NWFP. While various Pakistani Taliban commanders have operated in specific agencies (e.g., Baitullah Mehsud, Maulvi Nazir, Mullah Fazlullah, Maulvi Faqir, et al.), in late 2007 many of these commanders coalesced under the banner of the “Pakistani Taliban,” under the purported leadership of Baitullah Mehsud based in South Waziristan in the FATA. Despite this, there was no evidence that the TTP acted as a coherent entity under the firm command and control of Mehsud. (Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August 2009. Hakimullah Mehsud has taken over the leadership of the TTP and has perpetrated numerous attacks against Pakistani security forces since the end of September 2009.) The rise of this collective of Islamist militants operating against the state with the goal of establishing local spheres of Shariah in their areas of influence seems to have coincided with, or was precipitated by, the Pakistani military operations in the FATA as well as U.S. strikes in the FATA by unmanned aerial vehicles (e.g., predator and reaper drones).11
While this “Talibanization” of the Pashtun belt began in North and South Waziristan in 2004, it quickly spread to areas that had previously been peaceful, such as in the Mohmand, Orakzai and Kurram agencies. Pakistani Taliban militants have also emerged in the frontier areas of Bannu, Tank, Kohat, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Swat and Buner.12 Since the summer of 2007, Pakistan has battled the Pakistani militants associated with the Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariah-Muhammadi (TNSM), which seized the Swat Valley in late October 2007.13 TNSM is one of the groups nominally allied to Mehsud’s TTP.
While Pakistan continues to see some groups as assets (e.g., the so-called Kashmiri groups and the Afghan Taliban), the state has launched, with varying degrees of commitment and success, a low intensity conflict against several components of the TTP using the paramilitary Frontier Corps and elements of the regular army. The armed forces have suffered numerous defeats and have ratified these defeats on the ground with several problematic peace deals with militants—all of which have been on favorable terms to the militants and all of which have been broken even as the ink was drying.14
While the capabilities of the army have no doubt shaped its lack of will, another important factor is that the Pakistani public has not—until very recently—embraced these military engagements. Without popular support, Pakistan’s military leadership cannot engage effectively, at least in part because the Pakistani army is sensitive to its standing among Pakistanis and to the impact of these unpopular operations on the morale of the institution of the army. In an effort to understand and contextualize the political constraints of these operations, the rest of this essay examines Pakistani public opinion toward these anti-state militant groups and state efforts to undermine them.
Pakistani Perceptions of and Support for Islamist Extremism and Militancy15
There are few data sources regarding the Pakistani public’s attitudes about militancy and the groups that engage in violence that span several years, and there are none that predate the events of 9/11. One important source of such information is the Pew Foundation, which has been surveying Pakistan since early 2002 as part of the Global Attitudes Survey. For several years, Pew has asked the following question in Pakistan and several other countries to measure support for suicide terrorism and other attacks against civilians to defend Islam:
Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?
When Pew first fielded this question to a largely urban sample in 2002, 33 percent believed that such attacks were often or sometimes justified. In March 2004, this number actually increased to 41 percent. In 2005, this figure declined to 25 percent and to 14 percent in 2006. By 2007, only 9 percent believed that such attacks were often or sometimes justified. Support declined even further by 2008. At the same time, the percentage that believed it was rarely or never justified climbed from 43 percent in 2002 to 91 percent in 2008 (see Figure 1). This sharp decline in support for suicide attacks and the sharp increase in the opposition to such attacks is likely due to the fact that since 2006 in particular, Pakistan has witnessed numerous suicide attacks itself, as shown in Figure 1.
The IRI has also fielded surveys in Pakistan at regular intervals between June 2007 and March 2009. In the IRI’s nationally representative sample (which includes a majority of rural respondents), a solid but fluctuating majority agreed that religious extremism is a serious problem (see Figure 2). IRI also asked if respondents agree or disagree as to whether “The Taliban and Al Qaeda Operating in Pakistan is a Serious Problem.” In most intervals, the majority of respondents viewed both the Taliban and Al Qaeda as a threat (see Figure 3) with the notable exceptions of IRI’s polls in June and October 2008.
These results track with the most recent polling by PIPA from May 2009. PIPA asked of a nationally representative sample whether the “activities of the Taliban and religious militants in FATA and settled areas of Pakistan”16 pose a “critical threat,” an “important but not critical threat” or are “not a threat” at all over the next ten years. Solid majorities identified them as a critical threat (81 percent) or an important but not critical threat (14 percent). This was an enormous increase over the PIPA/USIP survey in 2007 when only a third thought they posed a critical threat and about one in four an important threat. Similarly, in May 2009, a solid majority (67 percent) believed that the activities of militant groups in Pakistan as a whole posed a “critical threat” and another 18 percent indicated that they were an “important threat.”17
Figure 1: Pakistani Support for Suicide Bombings and Annual Numbers of Suicide Attacks in Pakistan
Source: IRI Index, “Survey of Pakistan Public Opinion,” 7–30 March 2009, www.iri.org.
Figure 3: Agree or disagree? The Taliban and Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan are a serious threat
Source: IRI Index, “Survey of Pakistan Public Opinion,” 7–30 March 2009, www.iri.org.
The author, working with PIPA, examined how these key threat perceptions varied across Pakistan’s four main provinces according to the May 2009 data.18 There are large differences between the provinces selected for discussion here and in the next section. The smallest variations reported here are in the 20-point range; most are in the 30- to 50-point range. The variations in each question offered are at the p<.001 level of significance. The paper seeks to discuss and interpret only these very robust inter-provincial differences.19 Differences in sample means based upon whether the respondents lived in rural or urban areas were also examined; however, few notable differences were found.20
With few exceptions, such as the suicide attack against Benazir Bhutto in Karachi upon her return to Pakistan, the NWFP and Punjab have experienced the brunt of the violence perpetrated by the Pakistani Taliban and allied militant groups (including foreign militants). These provinces, especially the NWFP, are also closest to the epicenter of the state’s campaigns against the militants. In contrast, both Sindh and Baluchistan have experienced other kinds of violence in the past, but they have been relatively spared the predations of the Pakistani Taliban. Perhaps for these reasons, considerable differences in threat perception are manifest across the provinces. This is true for Baluchistan, even though the Afghan Taliban have long used Baluchistan’s territory as a sanctuary, without making Baluchistan itself a focus of operations.
When the PIPA team asked respondents whether the “activities of the Taliban and Religious militants in FATA and settled areas of Pakistan” pose a “critical threat,” an “important but not critical threat” or were “not a threat” over the next ten years, respondents in the Punjab, Sindh and NWFP overwhelmingly believed they were a “critical threat.” Respondents in Baluchistan were less likely to hold this view. When one adds those who indicated that these groups are an “important but not critical threat,” however, solid majorities across all provinces perceive groups to pose some kind of threat (see Figure 4). When respondents were asked to evaluate whether the “activities of religious militant groups in Pakistan as a whole” posed a “critical threat,” an “important but not critical threat” or “no a threat at all,” survey participants responded similarly to the above question, with respondents in NWFP and Punjab demonstrating a substantially stronger threat perception than those in Baluchistan and Sindh.21
Figure 4: Provinces—Threat Posed by Activities of Islamist Militants and Local Taliban in FATA and Settled Areas
These data collectively suggest that Pakistanis are not insouciant about the threat that militants pose to Pakistan. In fact, in recent years, popular threat perceptions of these groups seem to have hardened. Given the different experiences with these groups across the four provinces, there are significant differences across the country in this threat perception, as expected. As the next section shows, however, Pakistanis remain deeply hesitant about the best course of action. Despite the serious and deepening degradation of security for Pakistan’s citizens, they remain at best ambivalent about armed responses against the militants ravaging the country.
Pakistani Support for the Government’s Handling of Pakistan’s Insurgency
Several data sets provide insights into Pakistani popular beliefs about the state’s handling of the internal security crisis. IRI has collected data systematically on this issue between September 2007 and July 2009. Since the fall of 2006, IRI has asked a nationally representative sample of respondents whether they think that “Pakistan should cooperate with the United States on its war against terror?” When IRI asked this question in September 2006, Pakistani respondents were divided with somewhat more respondents supporting cooperation (46 percent) than those who opposed it (43 percent). Resistance steadily increased until January 2008, however, when it peaked at 89 percent and support bottomed out at 9 percent. Since then, as Pakistan increasingly became a target of domestic terrorism, popular opposition has declined and support has increased. Nonetheless in the March 2009 IRI survey, a majority (61 percent) still disapprove of cooperation with Washington compared to 37 percent that support it (see Figure 5). In IRI’s most recent survey dated July 2009, 80 percent of respondents disagreed with Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington in its war on terror.22
IRI’s data on popular views of the Pakistani government’s handling of militants within Pakistan remains mixed. As the data summarized in Figure 6 suggest, Pakistanis have until recently been divided about their army’s operations against militants in the NWFP and FATA, staunchly opposed to fighting Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban and continue to be extremely supportive of the infamous and ignominious peace deals that have been inked with domestic militants since 2004.23 Polling since early 2009 indicates important changes. Following the failed peace deal with militants who had seized Swat and the overreaching of the Taliban into Buner, the public turned dramatically against peace deals and increasingly supported their military’s fight against the extremists. This trend actually strengthened in the July 2009 poll, fielded after sustained military operations to oust the militants from Swat.
Source: IRI Index, “Survey of Pakistan Public Opinion,” 7–30 March 2009, www.iri.org.
Source: Survey results for all years are available in Pew Research Center, Pew Global Attitudes Survey Project, “Unfavorable Views of Jews and Muslims on the Increase in Europe,” 17 September 2008, 64. Data on annual suicide attacks taken from South Asia Terrorism Portal, “Fidayeen (Suicide Squad) Attacks in Pakistan,” updated 2 March 2009. Available at http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/Fidayeenattack.htm. Note that different sources of counts vary.
Figure 2: Agree or disagree? Religious extremism is a serious problem in Pakistan
Source: C. Christine Fair, “Islamist Militancy in Pakistan: A View From the Provinces,” 24 July 2009. Available at www.worldpublicopinion.org.
Figure 6: Pakistani Views Toward Various Military Approaches Toward Different Militant Groups
Source: IRI Index, “Survey of Pakistan Public Opinion,” 15 July-7 August 2009, www.iri.org.
Such sustained support was curious given that every peace deal had been broken by the militants and none had secured any modicum of lasting peace. One explanation for this generally sustained support for peace deals, developed over numerous trips to Pakistan, is that Pakistanis outside of FATA and NWFP have been willing to concede to such erosion of state sovereignty provided that doing so affords Pakistanis, particularly in the Punjab, protection from suicide bombing and other acts of terrorism. Implicit in this assumption is the belief that the militants will not seek to expand their sphere of influence east of the Indus river. Rooted in Pakistan’s colonial history, this remains an important geographical point of reference for many Pakistanis in the settled areas as it is widely seen as demarcating the border between the “uncivilized, unsettled world” of the Pashtuns and that of the settled heartland of Pakistan, the Punjab. In this sense, the Taliban’s push into Buner likely convinced Pakistanis that the Pakistani Taliban will not remain confined to the Pashtun belt, which raised the cost of successively failed peace deals while rendering the public more receptive to military action. It should be noted however that even in the most recent poll, fewer than one in two support military action.
While Pakistanis have been wary of military action in the FATA and elsewhere, USIP/PIPA data from 2007 revealed that Pakistanis do support political reform for the FATA.24 When asked whether they supported leaving the colonial-era and draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) unchanged, modifying it “slowly over time such that the people there should have the same rights and responsibilities as all other Pakistanis,” or abolishing it such that “the people there should have the same rights and responsibilities as all other Pakistanis,” only a slim minority (8 percent) favored leaving the FCR intact.25 The largest percentage, 46 percent, favored modification, and more than one in four favored abolishing it altogether.
While there may have been ambivalence about the government’s policy of military action, appeasement of the militants and political reform seemed quite palatable to much of the public. Unfortunately, while Pakistan’s political leaders have episodically made public proclamations about political reform, they have not actually initiated any such reforms of the FCR in the FATA.
The data above show that, at least up until March 2009, Pakistanis were deeply ambivalent about the best way to contend with those groups which Pakistanis nearly universally see as a threat, with respondents preferring political reform of the militant-affected areas and peace deals over military action.
Despite these enduring trends, recent polling data from May 2009 suggest that some important shifts seem to have occurred. The IRI poll of March 2009 was fielded as the most recent peace deal was being negotiated between the TNSM militants and the government in the settled area of Swat. At that time, many Pakistanis were hopeful that the deal would in fact bring peace as evidenced by the IRI data.26 By April 2009, the president and the parliament accepted the deal with the militants. By May 2009, however, the militants had continued their march into Buner, another settled district in closer proximity to Islamabad. This signaled that the militants would not confine themselves to the historical areas of chaos west of the Indus River.
In the meantime, video footage of a young woman being beaten in public by the Pakistani Taliban surfaced amidst some controversy and speculation about its authenticity. The video was shocking because the girl was beaten in public by “men with full beards” who were handling her while her kameez had risen up above her salwar. All of these elements are considered “indecent” in Pakistan even though some Pakistanis argued that Shariah does permit such beatings in private.27
The conjoined developments of the militants’ push beyond the Indus and the disturbing video of the girl’s disgraceful beating jolted Pakistanis—particularly in the traditionally liberal Punjab—out of their complacency regarding the goals of the militants. Indeed, according to PIPA’s May 2009 nationally representative data analyzed by the author across the four provinces, respondents in the Punjab, as well as NWFP, were much more likely than those in Baluchistan or Sindh to believe that the Pakistani Taliban sought to control allof Pakistan rather than merely the Pashtun belt.28
In the wake of these events, the army moved swiftly to displace the militants from Bunerand Swat. In doing so, they also displaced millions of civilians; between these operations and those in Bajaurand other parts of the FATA, more than three million civilians have been displaced.29 At the same time, the military launched a major campaign to mobilize support. Data from PIPA’s May 2009 poll indicated that a remarkable shift in opinion had occurred toward the militants, peace deals and military operations. This optimism should be subject to important caveats. Notably, PIPA did not use the same questions as used by IRI even though both organizations used the same polling firm in Pakistan. Thus these questions, while similar, cannot be strictly compared. Second, there is no way of confirming that changes in public opinion were in fact caused by these events although it is highly likely given the degree of public outrage precipitated by the fall of Buner.
Figure 7: Provinces—How much confidence do you have in the way that the military is handling the Pakistani Taliban?
Source: C. Christine Fair, “Islamist Militancy in Pakistan: A View From the Provinces,” 24 July 2009. Available at www.worldpublicopinion.org.
Source: C. Christine Fair, “Islamist Militancy in Pakistan: A View From the Provinces,” 24 July 2009. Available at www.worldpublicopinion.org.
In the backdrop of Buner’s fall, the PIPA team asked respondents how much confidence they have “in the way that the military is dealing with the Pakistan Taliban.” A plurality, 40 percent, said that they had “a lot” of confidence, and another 32 percent indicated that they had “some” confidence. Nearly one in four indicated that they had “just a little” or none.30
PIPA also asked respondents whether or not the government “did the right thing” when it forged the peace deal with the militants in Swat or whether it “made a mistake.” Whereas IRI found that 80 percent of respondents supported the deal in Swat in March 2009, PIPA found that 45 percent supported the government and 40 percent thought it had made a mistake. Fifteen percent either declined to answer or did not have an opinion.31 Moreover, whereas IRI found that 74 percent of respondents believed that the deal would bring peace, in May 2009 PIPA found that a majority, 69 percent, did not believe that the “Pakistani Taliban” would fulfill their commitment.32
Just as there were significant inter-provincial differences regarding threat perceptions, across the provinces there were also different views about the state’s efforts. When asked how confident respondents were in how the “government is dealing with the situation in Malakand area in and around Swat,” residents of the NWFP were most likely not to have “a lot” of confidence. NWFP has experienced sustained if brutal and devastating army operations which have demolished vast swathes of residential areas and displaced millions of persons fleeing the army-led and militant-led violence. These realities notwithstanding, a solid majority of respondents in the NWFP evinced some degree of confidence. Respondents in Baluchistan, Sindh and Punjab were most likely to indicate “a lot” of confidence. Residents in Sindh and Baluchistan were divided, however, with as many indicating that they have “just a little” or “no” confidence in the government’s handling, as seen in the data in Figure 7.
Respondents were also asked whether the agreement between the government and the Pakistani Taliban was “the right thing” to do or whether the government “[made] a mistake.” As shown in Figure 8, respondents in Baluchistan and Sindh were the most supportive of the deal and least likely to view it as a mistake. Recall that Baluchistan and Sindh have seen virtually no Pakistani Taliban-related violence. The Punjab had the lowest percentage believing that the deal was the right thing to do. Opinion was divided in the NWFP, with nearly equal numbers believing it was the right thing to do or a mistake. The NWFP’s divided response may be understandable, given that residents there have been battered by the military as well as the Taliban.
Conclusions and Implications
The PIPA May 2009 survey data indicated that an important change had occurred in Pakistani public attitudes toward the Pakistani Taliban and military action against them. IRI’s more recent polling from the summer of 2009 suggest a public that is increasingly disinclined toward peace deals and more supportive of military efforts against the militants. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether these attitudes will persist as the army launches new offensives into South Waziristan and as the militants redouble their efforts to terrorize the public throughout the NWFP and Punjab. The persistent crisis of Pakistan’s internally displaced persons may also affect public opinion toward military action, especially as winter sets in.
As of August 2009, residents have been returning to Bunerand Swat; however, many remain dubious about security and have refused to return, an issue that is even more true for those who fled Bajaur. Wealthy landlords from Swat whose land was seized by the Pakistani Taliban and redistributed to the needy remain unwilling to return. Worse, this has created a class of beneficiaries who are beholden to the Pakistani Taliban for giving them land seized from the landlords.33 Many Pakistanis interviewed by the author in April of 2009 are concerned about the influx of Pashtuns in part because of some degree of racism against Pashtuns (especially among Punjabis) and in part because some Pakistanis believe that Pashtuns have religious and social practices that do not conform to those of Pakistanis elsewhere, especially in the more liberal Punjab.34
Moreover, while this shift in attitudes toward appeasing the militants through peace deals is important, its modest magnitude should be kept in mind. Pakistanis have not completely rejected peace deals; rather, they have simply become more ambivalent about them in opposition to overwhelming support as evidenced in earlier polls. Similarly, Pakistanis have not warmed entirely toward military action against the militants; instead, they have become more ambivalent compared to previous staunch opposition evidenced in earlier polls.35
Finally, as the discussion of interprovincial differences suggests, while many U.S. analysts focus upon Pakistan and overall Pakistani opinion, analysts should note that there are in fact many Pakistani publics with varying opinions. Clearly there is a wide divergence in public views about these issues—variations which appear related to different provincial experiences of proximity to war, inefficacy of state institutions, violence and intimidation. This is in addition to other demographic, socioeconomic and social differences that exist across populations in the four provinces.
As the United States tries to craft its information policies toward Pakistan’s polity to garner support for its war on terrorism, and as the Pakistani government communicates with its citizenry about the same, it would be wise for the U.S. and Pakistani governments to better understand how people across Pakistan variously understand the problems facing their nation, and how they evaluate the state’s efforts to contend with its unstable environment. Without sustained public demands for action, the army’s ability to sustain its operations will remain in doubt.
1 Editorial, “A mortal threat from Pakistan,” Boston Globe, 26 April 2009.
2Briefing by Pakistani army personnel at the National Defense University in June 2009.
3Note that the Pakistani army does not practice a population-centric counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine; rather they practice low-intensity (conventional) conflict (LIC). For this reason, this essay does not use COIN to discourage any confusion between what the Pakistanis are doing (LIC) and what the international community wants them to do (COIN). See C. Christine Fair and Seth G. Jones, “Pakistan’s Operations against Militants,” Survival (forthcoming December 2009). Pakistani views of militant groups operating in India and Afghanistan have been explored elsewhere by the author;see, for example, C. Christine Fair, Steven Kull and Clay Ramsay, “Pakistani Public Opinion on Democracy, Islamist Militancy, and Relations with the US,” (Washington, D.C.: PIPA/USIP, 7 January 2008).
4The author, working under the auspices of USIP, in collaboration with research staff from PIPA, developed a comprehensive questionnaire to probe Pakistani public opinion on a wide array of domestic and foreign policy concerns. These questions pertain to their attitudes to numerous militant groups operating in Pakistan, including Al Qaeda, the Taliban, various askari tanzeems engaged over Kashmir, sectarian militant groups and ethnic militant movements such as the insurgency in Baluchistan and previous conflicts in Sindh. Questions to ascertain views about policy issues covered the government’s handling of the crisis in FATA and at the Red Mosque, among other public policies. The instrument also queried respondents’ opinions about several kinds of militant targets (e.g. Indian police, women and children of armed forces personnel, civilian targets such as parliament and national assemblies). The survey was conducted from 12 to 18 September, just before President Pervez Musharraf declared a six-week state of emergency and before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The sample included 907 Pakistani urban adults, selected using multi-stage probability sampling, who were interviewed at home in nineteen cities across all of Pakistan’s provinces. The margin of error is +/– 3.3 percent. The bulk of this essay derives from analyses of these data. See C. Christine Fair, et al., “Pakistani Public Opinion on Democracy, Islamist Militancy, and Relations with the US.”
5 For information on the Pew Global Attitudes Project, see http://pewglobal.org. For more information about the work done by IRI on Pakistani public opinions, see http://www.iri.org/mena/pakistan.asp.
6This poll was carried out by SEDCO (Socio-Economic Development Consultants, Islamabad, Pakistan). All interviewing was conducted in Urdu. A total of 1,000 face-to-face interviews were conducted across sixty-four primary sampling units in rural areas and thirty-six in urban areas. In order to properly capture opinion in Baluchistan (a multi-ethnic, sparsely populated province), it was oversampled, using fifteen primary sampling units; results were then weighted back to reflect true proportions among provinces. Interviews were conducted between 17 and 28 May 2009. Sampling error for a sample of this size is approximately +/-3.2 percentage points. See Clay Ramsay, Steven Kull, Stephen Weber, Evan Lewis, “Pakistani Public Opinion on the Swat Conflict, Afghanistan and the US,” (Washington, D.C.: PIPA, 2009).
7 This section draws from C. Christine Fair, “Who Are Pakistan’s Militants and Their Families?” Terrorism and Political Violence 20, no. 1 (January 2008), 49–65; and C. Christine Fair, “Militant recruitment in Pakistan: Implications for Al-Qa’ida and Other Organizations,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 27, no. 6 (November/December 2004), 489-504.
8 C. Christine Fair, “Pakistan’s Relations with Central Asia: Is Past Prologue?” Journal of Strategic Studies 31, no. 2 (April 2008), 201-227; Mariam Abou Zahab and Olivier Roy, Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection (London: C. Hurst, 2004); Fair, “Militant Recruitment in Pakistan: Implications for Al-Qa’ida and Other Organizations.”
9FATA is comprised of seven agencies (or administrative units). These agencies, from north to south, are Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram and North and South Waziristan. In addition, FATA also includes several so-called “frontier regions” adjacent to the settled districts of Peshawar, Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Tank. FATA is a relatively small area (27,000 square kilometers) and shares a 600-kilometer border with Afghanistan. According to Pakistan’s most recent census of 1998, FATA’s population is 3.1 million; however, unofficial estimates surpass 7 million. See Barnett R. Rubin and Abubakar Siddique, “Resolving the Pakistan-Afghanistan Stalemate,” USIP Special Report, October 2006.
10 See inter alia, Senator Carl Levin, “Opening Statement of Senator Carl Levin, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Afghanistan and Pakistan,” 26 February 2009; Ian Katz, “Gates Says Militant Sanctuaries Pose Biggest Afghanistan Threat,” Bloomberg News, 1 March 2009; Barnett R. Rubin, “Saving Afghanistan,” Foreign Affairs, 86, no. 1 (January/February 2007). See comments made by National Intelligence Director John Negroponte cited in “Al-Qaeda ‘rebuilding’ in Pakistan,” BBC News Online, 12 January 2007; and K. Alan Kronstadt, U.S.-Pakistan Relations (Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2008).
11 While drone strikes were at first infrequent, they have become more routine. Between August 2008 and April 2009, there were at least 30 drone strikes which may have killed as many as 300 people. While the political leadership complains about this, it is widely believed that the targeting of militants in FATA is done with the tacit knowledge and input from the Pakistani army, public displays of outrage notwithstanding. “Many killed in ‘US drone Attack,’” BBC News, 1 April 2009; Tom Coghlan, Zahid Hussain and Jeremy Page, “Secrecy and denial as Pakistan lets CIA use airbase to strike militants,” Times, 17 February 2009.
12It should be noted that some of these so-called Pakistani Taliban are criminal elements (e.g. Mangal Bagh in Khyber) operating under the guise of Pakistani Taliban to garner both some sense of legitimacy but also to enjoy impunity in their criminal enterprises.
13Christine Fair, “Pakistan Loses Swat to Local Taliban,” Terrorism Focus 4, no. 37 (14 November 2007).
14This commitment is undermined by inadequate competence in conducting operations and by the fact that several Deobandi groups, including the JeM, are allies of the TTP and the state has been disinclined to eliminate the JeM. Fair and Jones, “Pakistan’s Operations against Militants.”
15This section does not address Pakistani views of India-oriented groups as this has been covered extensively in Fair, Ramsay and Kull, “Pakistani Public Opinion on Democracy, Islamist Militancy, and Relations with the U.S.”
16This expression, “settled areas,” derives from the colonial management of British India. The British promulgated a separate legal structure for the Pashtun belt along the Durand Line, which was the de facto border negotiated by British foreign secretary, Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, with agents of the Afghan Amir Abdul Rahman Khan in 1893. When Pakistan became independent, it retained this separate legal status with the constitution of Pakistan covering the settled areas of the four provinces while retaining the Frontier Crimes Regulation over the tribal areas of FATA.
17Clay Ramsay et al., “Pakistani Public Opinion on the Swat Conflict, Afghanistan, and the U.S.” (Washington D.C.: WorldPublicOpinion.org, 1 July 2009), 4.
18 Pakistan has four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and NWFP. In addition there are several territories that have distinct constitutional statuses that are not associated with any of the four provinces. These include: the FATA, the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir.
19 Even so, given the sample size, there are limits to how fine disaggregation can be due to Pakistan’s population distribution. For example, Baluchistan is the largest province in geographical size, but it is home to only 5 percent of the country’s population, according the most recent census in 1998. Moreover, Baluchistan is ethnically diverse, including Baluch, Pashtuns and Punjabis with Baluch and Pashtuns concentrated in different parts of the province. While the survey over-sampled Baluchistan, it is still possible that the Baluchistan sample does not perfectly reflect ethnic distributions within the province. Thus tabulations for Baluchistan in particular must be viewed with these caveats in mind. (Similar concerns pertain to Sindh but to a lesser degree.)
20C. Christine Fair, “Islamist Militancy in Pakistan: A View from the Provinces,” (Washington D.C.: WorldPublicOpinion.org, 24 July 2009), 2.
21 Fair, “Islamist Militancy in Pakistan: A View from the Provinces.”
22 International Republican Institute, “IRI Index: Survey of Pakistan Public Opinion,” 15 July–7 August 2009. Available at http://www.iri.org/mena/pakistan.asp.
23 The Pakistani army forged its first peace deal with militant leader Nek Mohammad of South Waziristan. This accord, the Shakai Agreement, came in the aftermath of Pakistani operations in Kalosha in March 2004. For a discussion of the ignominious terms of the deal, which ratified the army’s defeat, see Iqbal Khattak, “I did Not Surrender to the Military, Sayd Nek Mohammad,” Friday Times, 30 April–6 May 2004.
24 For information about the PIPA-USIP data, see Fair, Kull and Ramsay, “Pakistani Public Opinion on Democracy, Islamist Militancy, and Relations with the US.” This has also been born out by surveys conducted in FATA itself by CAMP, a Pakistani NGO working in FATA and the NWFP. See Naveed Ahmad Shinwari, Understanding FATA: Attitudes Toward Governance, Religion and Society in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Peshawar, Pakistan: Community Appraisal and Motivation Program, 2008).
25The FCR, as noted in footnote 16, is a colonial-era legal provision that governs FATA and incorporates the principle of collective responsibility. For this and other reasons, Pakistan’s own high court at Peshawar has declared the FCR to be unconstitutional. Under the FCR, the rights and responsibilities of the Pakistani constitution are denied to residents of FATA. Instead, each agency is governed by a political agent (PA), which has magisterial powers. The PA traditionally governs with tribal elders (maliks) in conjunction with tribal consultation bodies or jirgas. Decisions of the PA executed through the jirgas are binding and not subject to appeal in any appellate court of Pakistan. Over the decades since independence, however, many of these maliks have become paid agents of the state rather than traditional tribal elders. (In recent years, many maliks have been killed by militants forcing them to flee.) The president of Pakistan governs FATA directly through the governor of the NWFP, acting through the political agents. While FATA has no provincial representation, it has senators and members of the national assembly elected through direct elections conducted on a non-party basis. For more discussion of this dispensation, see C. Christine Fair and Peter Chalk, Fortifying Pakistan: The Role of U.S. Internal Security (Washington D.C.: USIP, 2006).
26 During field work in February 2009, the author did find many who were dubious about the terms of the peace deal and its impact even if it did bring about a cessation of violence.
27Author discussions with Pakistanis from NWFP, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan in April 2007.
28Fair, “Islamist Militancy in Pakistan.”
29 See the website of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, “Pakistan: Displacement ongoing in a number of regions,” n.d., http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/pakistan. Accessed August 2, 2009.
30 WorldPublicOpinion.Org, “Pakistani Public Opinion on the Swat Conflict, Afghanistan and the U.S., Questionnaire,” (Washington D.C.: PIPA, 1 July 2009); Ramsay et al., “Pakistani Public Opinion on the Swat Conflict, Afghanistan, and the U.S.”
31 See “IRI Index: Survey of Pakistan Public Opinion,” 7-30 March 2009 (Washington D.C.: IRI, 2009) and WorldPublicOpinion.Org, “Pakistani Public Opinion on the Swat Conflict, Afghanistan and the U.S., Questionnaire.”
32 See “IRI Index: Survey of Pakistan Public Opinion,” 7-30 March 2009 and WorldPublicOpinion.Org, “Pakistani Public Opinion on the Swat Conflict, Afghanistan and the U.S., Questionnaire.”
33 Jane Perlez and Zubai Shah, “Landowners Still in Exile From Unstable Pakistan Area,” New York Times, 27 July 2009.
34 The author is aware that these are sensitive judgments; however, the author has been visiting Pakistan since 1991, during which many Pashtun refugees were still in Pakistan fleeing the violence in Afghanistan. At that time the author was living in Lahore and travelled throughout the country. The author repeatedly witnessed ethnic bias against Pashtuns.
35 See Ramsay et al., “Pakistani Public Opinion on the Swat Conflict, Afghanistan and the US.”