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An unethical survey on FATA — by Farhat Taj

The people of FATA perceive state collusion with the Taliban. They want the termination of this collusion before the military operations. Until then, they are comfortable with the drone strikes on militant positions

Recently, a survey was conducted by the New America Foundation (NAF), a US think tank, and Terror Free Tomorrow (TFT) about the tribal public opinion in FATA about the war on terror, including the US drone strikes in the area. The two organisations claim to “have conducted the first comprehensive public opinion survey covering sensitive political issues in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan”. It is further claimed that, “the unprecedented survey, from June 30 to July 20, 2010, consisted of face-to-face interviews of 1,000 FATA residents aged 18 or older across 120 villages/sampling points in all seven tribal agencies of FATA.”

A critical analysis of the survey by anyone aware of the ground realities in FATA can render the survey unethical, in terms of research ethics, and methodologically inaccurate on many counts. This is not the occasion to critically analyse the survey. I will, however, comment on two grand claims made by the survey. First is the claim that “the people in Pakistan’s tribal areas strongly oppose the US military pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban fighters based in their region. American drone attacks are deeply unpopular (76 percent are against the drone strikes).” Secondly, it says, “The residents of the FATA back, instead, the Pakistani military fighting against the militants.”

In June and July 2010, when the survey was conducted, many, if not most, people of FATA were the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in other parts of Pakistan. The entire Upper Orakzai, parts of Lower Orakzai and the whole Mehsud area in South Waziristan were empty of their people due to the ongoing military operations in these areas. People in most parts, if not entire, of Bajaur, Mohmand, Bara in Khyber and several parts of Kurram and North Waziristan were also IDPs. How much is the survey representative of the residents of FATA in such a situation? Before declaring the survey ‘unprecedented’ or ‘comprehensive’, the surveyors must seriously address these questions.

The survey is claimed to have been conducted in parts of FATA that are totally under the writ of the militants in collusion with the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. The local people are overpowered in these areas, which are inaccessible for independent investigation due to bad security. There is no question of locals giving honest answers in a survey like this, because doing so means their instant beheading. Many have been brutally killed for displeasing the militants by freely expressing their opinions. The survey report does not elaborate how it made sure that the people freely expressed their opinion. The NAF and TFT must disclose what deals they had to make with Commander Nazir, the gangster of South Waziristan, Caliph Haqqani, the de facto ruler of North Waziristan, Mangal Bagh, the devil occupying Bara, the local Gestapo (ISI agents) and Arab, Punjabi and Uzbek terrorist gangs in all these areas to make sure that the respondents responded to the survey without fearing for their lives, especially about sensitive issues like drone strikes.

The second claim of the report about people in FATA backing the Pakistan Army operations is only a half-truth. The full truth is that the people of FATA have greatly suffered in the army operations. The government of Pakistan’s own FATA secretariat report informs that over 3,000 died, over 3,000 were injured and property worth millions of dollars was destroyed in the ongoing crisis in FATA. The IDPs from all over FATA that I have been interacting with say that most of the damage has been caused by the army. They allege that the army is deliberately killing innocent people and avoiding targeting the militants. They want targeted army operations against the militants. They perceive state collusion with the Taliban. They want the termination of this collusion before the military operations. Until then, they are comfortable with the drone strikes on militant positions. Let me share with the readers that the people from the most drone-hit areas of Waziristan get seriously upset when there are no drone attacks. Their apprehension is that the governments of Pakistan and the US might enter an agreement to halt the drone attacks. They want the drone strikes to continue. Anyone who can somehow manage to win the confidence of the people of FATA will find that most of them welcome the drone strikes.

CAMP, a local NGO in Pakistan, conducted fieldwork for the survey. I have heard researchers, journalists, NGO activists and intellectuals from across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA accuse CAMP of fabricating data about FATA and making quick bucks out of it. Those FATA tribesmen who have had the opportunity to actually observe the fieldwork conducted by the NGO either ridicule its work or, at best, question it on many counts. This column is not the place to critically analyse the FATA research of this NGO. Suffice it to say that a critical analysis by anyone who is well informed about the factual reality in FATA would find previous research by CAMP, known as ‘Understanding FATA’, highly questionable.

I want to challenge the FATA ‘experts’ at the NAF and TFT to show some scholarly courage. I urge them to come over to FATA (not under the auspices of the Pakistan Army as David Kilcullen of Accidental Guerrilla did), apply some research ethics and conduct a real survey, rather than spreading misleading information about FATA from the US or engaging dubious Pakistani NGOs to engineer data about FATA.

This is not the first time NAF has spread distorted information about the drone strikes in FATA. Recently, the think tank produced a research report, ‘The year of the drone’, that claims that 32 percent of those killed in US drone strikes are innocent civilians. I have questioned the authenticity of that report through my research paper, ‘That year of the drone misinformation’, published in Small Wars and Insurgencies.

Researchers, both western and Pakistani, routinely violate research ethics in their research on the people and culture of FATA. Had the researchers applied some research ethics, we would not have had the piles of research reports that produce stereotypical images of FATA in line with the colonial discourse and narratives of the Pakistani military establishment about the tribesmen and women. More importantly, the reports are often factually wrong and thus mislead people around the world about the ground reality in this most important battleground in the war on terror. The message is clear: research ethics do not matter at all when it comes to the people of FATA.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban

Source :Daily Times

About the author

Junaid Qaiser


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  • Bla Bla bla bla……

    Who is in favor of Drone Strikes in Pakistan, The Tribesman of FATA….OMG you are seriously got it all wrong MAN… Three accurate strikes does not create a positive impact as compared to the negative impact by one drone strike which kill even a single innocent….leaving the family to go for “Jihad” or to become a suicide bomber…Thus by killing 10, drones have in fact created 100 more…
    FATA guys would love to see an End to this crap and will welcome only Pakistan Army although with a SAD face which can be put right by the combine efforts of Pakistan govt & Army…

  • Well, I am working in the same area and have spent considerable time in FATA. I have also taken lead from the data collected by CAMP and few other NGOs. In order to justify the ethical requirements of my uni, I went for validation of the surveyed data. I am happy to say that with some minor variations the data is good. Having said that, I must highlight that people sitting in UK and USA, behind desks cannot apply ethical rules created for streets of London. The author needs to reconcile the discourse of his observations, I suggest that he should apply those on his work first. Cheers

  • This is too far stretched, strongly opinionated, and partially biased article. There are limitations for conducting research in conflict settings. There are usually shortcomings and divergence from the standard operating procedure within the ethically allowed boundaries of research studies. There is a clear justification and necessity to conduct research in conflict zones in order to improve knowledge of specific domain interventions and their outcomes and bring to light the plight of populations caught in conflict. Not striving to do so may contribute to their vulnerability and add to complacency among those who are responsible or contribute to their unfortunate plight.

  • what i got from your piece of writing is that; first that there must be drone strike because of its accuracy and second that there is collusion of government or pak army with the Taliban. well i am too in favor of drones Strike but the thing is that the intelligence to the drone strike is provided by ISI (Inside Al-Qaeda and Taliban Beyond 9/11 and Bin Laden), than how u can claim that the drone strike are justified and are desired by the FATA people. on one hand u r saying that govt and taliban are in secret agreement and on the other hand u r justfying the drone strike to b accurate, though the intelligence to the drones are provided by the same govt (ISI).