National Press Club

Pakistani calls drone policy 'wrong war with wrong methods against the wrong enemy'

March 29, 2013 | By Audrey E Hoffer |

Akbar Ahmed, Former Pakistan High Commissioner to the U.K. and Ireland discusses his study  of the US drone campaign.

Akbar Ahmed, Former Pakistan High Commissioner to the U.K. and Ireland discusses his study of the US drone campaign.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, author, professor at American University and former Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland said at a March 28 Newsmaker that the US drone program hurts the societies it targets and is the wrong way to fight the war on terror.

Speaking on his book, "The Thistle and the Drone: How American’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam," Ahmed said the US policy of selectively targeting individuals for assassination is not successful and overlooks the fundamental tribal structure of the countries in which the US is fighting.

“America has been fighting the wrong war with the wrong methods against the wrong enemy,” he said.

Drone strikes destroy societal frameworks; kill community leaders; demolish religious and administrative institutions; create lawlessness and violence; traumatize children and make them unstable adults; turn friends, relatives and neighbors into suicide bombers; and create a strong anti-Americanism and a visceral hatred of Americans, he said.

Americans and particularly the press perceive the war on terror as a fight between the West and Islam, but that is a misinterpretation, Ahmed said. Rather he calls it is a clash between two very different civilizations — Muslim tribal societies and the West.

He described tribal societies as linear in structure with highly developed, centuries-old codes of honor that exist at the periphery of their nations. Tribes are motivated by honor, dignity and revenge, he said, in contrast to their national governments and the US, who use military force to establish authority.

The result is that “the most impoverished communities in the world have become the target of the most advanced technology in the world,” according to Ahmed.

Ahmed, an anthropologist, and a team of researchers spent several years analyzing the impact of the US post 9/11 war on terror on individuals and families — 40 case studies — living in a northwestern region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan that is a focal point of the drone campaign.

Their conclusion is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not successful. “ Logic demands that we do something new,” said Ahmed. “It’s important that we begin to redesign the paradigm,” he added.

He recommends emphasizing things that will bring people together such as education. “Just think what could be accomplished if we spent a tiny fraction of the war on terror budget to build schools across these countries,” he said. Education is easy to establish and is appreciated because everyone wants it, he said.

Accommodation between the central government and tribes on the periphery is also essential, according to Ahmed.

Ahmed said he believes in the notion of Tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase for healing a fractured world. “If we can go out with this spirit we will leave a legacy embodying the principles of our country,” he said.