Wali Aslam

16 June 2014

US drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan have caused large numbers of terrorists to relocate to other areas of the country causing an increase in violence across Pakistan, finds a new report commissioned by the Remote Control project.  Published today, the report follows the major attacks on Karachi International Airport last week that killed at least 34 people and comes days after the US resumed drone strikes in Pakistan following a five month pause.

The report, Terrorist relocation and the societal consequences of US drone strikes in Pakistan, reveals that the US drone programme in Pakistan has caused large numbers of terrorists to relocate from the heavily-targeted Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to avoid being attacked.  In turn, this has caused a host of negative implications for wider Pakistani society including increased radicalisation, sectarian and gang violence and drug and weapon smuggling in these areas.

The research found that since 2007 Pakistan has seen an escalation in violence – there have been an estimated 50,000 deaths due to a combination of suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices (or IEDs) and gunshot wounds – unprecedented for paramilitary violence in the country’s history.  Focusing on the four worst affected areas, Karachi, Kurram agency, Punjab and Baluchistan, the report argues that there is a direct correlation between this increased violence and the frequency of US drone attacks during this period.

In Karachi, an increase in attacks on secular political parties, kidnapping and petty crime occurred after 2010, coinciding with a dramatic increase in drone attacks in 2010 (122, compared with 36 and 54 in 2008 and 2009, respectively).  In Kurram Agency the fleeing of large numbers of militants from North Waziristan to Kurram coincided with an increase in sectarian violence there (since 2007 the Turi Shia tribe of Kurram lost an estimated 2, 000 members as a result of this violence). In Punjab, an increase in attacks on Punjab’s Ahmadi, Shia and Christian communities since 2007 coincided with a large number of militants relocating from FATA to Punjab during this time.

The report proposes a number of lessons that can be learnt from the US experience that should advise future UK drone policy.  In particular, states using armed drones must take into account the broader, unintended political and societal consequences drone strikes have on their targeted society and the ethical responsibility they bear for this.

Dr Wali Aslam, lecturer of International Relations at the University of Bath and author of the report, says,

As well as the damage these strikes are having on Pakistani society socially, there is also a major flaw in thinking that drones have been effective in countering terrorism.  Drones have eliminated threats in FATA in the short-term simply by spreading them to other parts of the country and have, in fact, increased the threat of terrorism by radicalising people in other areas of the country.  To combat terrorism we need to tackle the root causes of instability – the poor education system and absence of rule of law in FATA – that are allowing militants to recruit, exist and operate.

Caroline Donnellan, manager of the Remote Control Project adds,

This report shows the failure of drone warfare as a successful counterterrorism strategy in Pakistan and, more broadly, the limitations of remote warfare methods at effectively resolving conflict.  As drones are increasingly being used by the US in Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan and by the UK in Afghanistan this report on Pakistan is vital in exposing the wider implications of this new type of warfare.

The Remote Control project is a project of the Network for Social Change hosted by Oxford Research Group. The project examines changes in military engagement, in particular the use of drones, special forces, private military companies and cyber warfare.

Download the Report

Image: Creative Commons, Source: leeno on flickr