- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

We have heard a lot over the past few years about the Pakistani public being outraged by America’s use of Predators and other pilotless aircraft to strike al Qaeda terrorists inside Pakistan. Pundits have cited rising public resentment that threatens our relationship with Pakistan, where more al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured than any other nation on earth. So the wisdom in Washington is that we should tread carefully.

Now a new poll conducted in the tribal lands of Western Pakistan reveals that the Predator strikes are popular.

The new opinion survey was conducted by the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy and not funded by the U.S. government. A survey of 550 people in Predator-targeted areas of the North West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas found that 58 percent of respondents said that the drone attacks have not increased anti-American feelings. Fifty-five percent said they did not “create fear and terror in the common people,” 60 percent said the strikes were effective in damaging terror organizations, and 70 percent would like to see the Pakistan army make its own strikes on the militants.

Aryana Institute member Farhat Taj has a personal interest in the survey. Ms. Taj, who is currently pursuing higher education in Scandinavia, is a native of the area and visits her family and friends there frequently. In an interview with the editorial page of The Washington Times, she said she was “so, so fed up with ‘experts’ both in Pakistan and the West. They constantly distort the realities of our people and area. Most of them do not even bother to come and see what is happening.”

The people in the frontier areas did not welcome the militants in their midst, consider them to be dangerous foreigners, and want them to leave. But they are powerless. They are being held captive by them, she said. More than two-thirds of the people surveyed “viewed al Qaeda and the Taliban as enemy number one.”

The foreign fighters are particularly reviled, seen as invaders seeking to change the local way of life. “The militants want to replace the Pashtun culture with Wahabbi culture,” Ms. Taj told us. She said people did not want to give up their traditional way of life for an “alien” culture.

Most of the foreign fighters - Arabs, Uzbeks, Chechens, and others from many countries around the world, including the United States - came to that part of Pakistan in 2001 after being run out of Afghanistan. They soon availed themselves of the Pashtun code of ethics known as Pashtunwali. In particular they sought to invoke melmastia (hospitality) and nanwati (sanctuary). The Pashtuns accepted them under these principles. But they have definitely worn out their welcome.

“The [local] people feel they are hostage,” Ms. Taj told us. “They are overpowered by the armed militants.” Almost daily people bury friends and relatives tortured and beheaded by the militants. Some have tried to resist. “In several places people took up arms against al Qaeda and the Taliban,” she told us. “Pakistan’s army did not help and the leaders of the local people’s armies were killed, one by one or in bulk through suicide bombing.” Some are still resisting at the village level, but “the militants have much better weapons and tools of communication than the local people.”

Al Qaeda is a remote threat to Americans, but an everyday reality to people on Pakistan’s frontier. So their approval of Predator strikes makes sense to us. We hope that this fascinating survey finally ends that dreary anti-war talking point that America’s counterterrorism efforts are unwelcome to the Muslims living on the front lines.

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