PITTSFIELD -- Do you support or op pose the U.S. military drone attacks inside Pakistan? This was a poll question on The Berkshire Eagle website last week.
The question was raised when the deputy leader of al-Qaida, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed on June 4 in a drone attack in North Waziristan, Pakistan. In this poll, 82 percent (400 voters) of respondents supported the drone attacks, while 11 percent (52 voters) were against them; only 7 percent (34 people) said they were not sure.
CIA-operated drone attacks started in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in June 2004. North and South Waziristan are the main targets. Drone attacks remained a key issue in the U.S.-Pakistan dialogue for the restoration of the NATO supply
Pakistan believes that drone strikes are a violation of its sovereignty. However, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said during his recent visit to India and Afghanistan that the attacks would continue to protect Americans from terrorists.
"Drone attacks do raise serious questions about compliance with international laws," said Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for Human Rights, who visited Pakistan last week. Pillay said that these attacks don't discriminate between terrorists and civilians, and it's difficult to track non-combatant casualties.
One of the perceptions in Pakistan is that drone attacks kill innocent people, and in reaction, people are joining the ranks of terrorist groups.
A video released on website of The Express Tribune, an English newspaper in Pakistan, shows a teenager, Jabir, who came out from a room after visiting his father, a teacher, at school.
Jabir had books in his hands. Meanwhile in the background, a militant is seen parking a vehicle near the school. After a while, a drone attack hits the building. Jabir, crying, ran back into the school building to protect his father but a local cleric stopped him. Later, the cleric explained to Jabir, "You can't go home right now because your home was bombarded by a drone. Don't cry, I will take [care of] you ... "
The video shows that the next day, Jabir was introduced to a militant group and he became a suicide bomber.
We have no way to confirm these kinds of stories, since most of the news is coming through the Pakistan Army and militant spokesmen. Journal ists are not allowed to go into the area, and they cannot independently verify the army's and militants' claims.
On the condition of anonymity, a local journalist from Wazirstan said, "Khalq sar tity de," which in English means the "locals are subjugated," due to the presence of international militant groups -- the Uzbek, the Tajik and the Arabs -- who are in control of the area. The journalist said locals are "puzzled" and not expressing their views with regard to the drone attacks. However, privately, the journalist estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the local people support drone attacks as long as they only focus on militant targets and avoid civilian casualties.
According to a BBC report, militants are afraid of the drone strikes and avoid traveling and living together. This is the reason that locals give a new name to the drones "Da Talibano Plar" in English, "Father of the Taliban."
Pakistan's "political administration has lost the control it once exercised in Fata," said Khalid Munir, a retired Pakistan army officer, in an article he wrote in The Express Tribune. He said, "Unlike Islamabad and Lahore, locals are not against the drone attacks due to their accuracy in hitting militant targets. It seems that the army and government have also reconciled with drone attacks and if other problems are solved with NATO, drone attacks will not remain an issue irrespective of what the All Parties Conference or parliament say."
Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "The flip side is, yes, there have un doubtedly been civilian causalities, and those who are opposed to the United States inside of Pakistan for other reasons -- even those who simply have humanitarian concerns -- worry about this."
The Express Tribune also did a poll in Pakistan and asked, "Panetta says the Sept. 11 perpetrators are in Pakistan's tribal area. Do you agree?" The response: 52 percent (366 voters) said yes, while 48 percent (339 voters) replied no.
However, according to a Pew poll, 18 countries including France (63 percent), Germany (59 percent) and Italy 55 (percent) opposed the drone attacks. These countries are key allies of the U.S. in the so-called "war on terror."
Since 2004, about 300 drone attacks have taken place in the tribal area of Pakistan and have killed high value targets, including al-Qaida and local militant commanders. These achievements have changed the minds of the people in Pakistan about the value of the drone attacks.
These attacks may be productive but they are not legal according to international law. If the U.S. and Pakistan shared information for the drone attacks inside Pakistan, it could reduce civilian casualties. The U.S and Pakistan need to develop a consensus to make it productive and legal.
Adnan Rashid lives in Swat, Pakistan. He is studying journalism at The Berkshire Eagle through the Alfred Friendly and Daniel Pearl fellowship program. To reach Adnan: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @adnanswat.