If you can’t win their hearts, can you win the war?
To even term the regional issue as ‘Afpak’ is a clumsy and lazy conceptual contraction. To compound this requirement and try to simplify and sound-bite such a complex regional dynamic even further, the US planners focus on resource and outcomes. This is a typical ‘measurable results’ Western mindset, where time is money, and actions must have firm deliverables. However, what the planners seem to have failed to understand the key enablers of regional stability, namely, societal cohesion, collective acceptance of a means to an end, and addressing the underlying causes of the violence. Instead, the US attempts to ‘band aid’ temporary security through force, and call it peace.
However, if the local people are not supportive of the objectives or methods then any peace imposed through force of arms will be at best temporary, and in reality only transient. The history of the region should have taught this lesson already, however, while the West focuses on fine tuning the resource mix and impotently attempting to minimize the body-count, the real chance to effect any meaningful outcome is being squandered. If one sacrifices the support of the population for tactical ease, then the war can never be won.
In a recent survey by Gallup commissioned by Al Jazeera, the biggest enemy and the major inhibitor to peace according to the Pakistani populace is not the Taliban or Al Qaeda, but the US itself.
When respondents were asked what they consider to be the biggest threat to the nation of Pakistan, 11 per cent of the population identified the Taliban fighters, who have been blamed for scores of deadly bomb attacks across the country in recent years. Another 18 per cent said that they believe that the greatest threat came from neighbouring India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan since partition in 1947.
But an overwhelming number, 59 per cent of respondents, said the greatest threat to Pakistan right now is, in fact, the US, a donor of considerable amounts of military and development aid.
It is the drone strategy as we have reported before, which the US sees as so efficient and strategic, that is at the heart of the growing dislike and distrust of the US presence in the region. The same Al Jazeera report details the depth of anger at the blunt force use of drones against combatant and civilian alike.
…when asked if they support or oppose the US military’s drone attacks against what Washington claims are Taliban and al-Qaeda targets, only nine per cent of respondents reacted favourably.
A massive 67 per cent say they oppose US military operations on Pakistani soil.
“This is a fact that the hatred against the US is growing very quickly, mainly because of these drone attacks,” Makhdoom Babar, the editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s The Daily Mail newspaper, said.
“Maybe the intelligence channels, the military channels consider it productive, but for the generalpublic it is controversial… the drone attacks are causing collateral damage,” he told Al Jazeera.
We have made the point before, and we reiterate that the strategy in use is counterproductive to the objectives of the coalition. The problems with the current US strategy lies in the fact that the death of innocents by drone strikes means that the real war, the war for hearts and minds, is at risk of being lost. The drones are not only a strategic error, but they bring into question the morality and intent of the present campaign for many locals. Drones are an error in an already flawed strategy, and their impersonal nature is a fundamental failure in the way the war is being fought as this recent survey shows. It is a battle for moral legitimacy that the US is losing. The drones are costing more than the death of innocents. It is the hearts and minds initiatives not in the military struggle, that the long war in region will eventually be decided, and the drones strategy may prove fatal still.