Apr
16
2009

Foreign Governments Suspiciously Oppose Civilian Deaths

In today's New York Times (4/16/07), Jane Perlez is wondering about Pakistani government officials who complain about U.S. drones attacks in their country. Perlez starts by floating the idea that Pakistan can't possibly be against the strikes, because the government has asked to have some control over the use of the drones:

In fact, both sides have grown accustomed to an unusual diplomatic dance around the drones. For all their public protests, behind the scenes, Pakistani officials may countenance the drones more than Mr. Qureshi's reprimand would suggest, Pakistan and American analysts and officials say.

Why else would Pakistani military officials be requesting that the United States give them the drones to operate, asked Professor Riffat Hussain, of the defense studies department at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

I'm not sure how that adds up.Most governments would like to have better weapons, wouldn't they? Especially those that are being used against their own populations.

But in case you might believe that the Times thinks civilian deaths are the least relevant factor in this discussion, this piece comes out and more or less says so:

But as effective as the attacks have proved, the Pakistanis' discomfort with the drones is real. The larger issue surrounding the drone strikes is the trade-off between decapitating the militant hierarchy and the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan–by undercutting the military and civilian government, by provoking retaliatory attacks from the militants, and by driving the Taliban and Al-Qaeda deeper into Pakistan in search of new havens.

Then there is the matter of public perception, particularly over the civilian casualties caused by the drone strikes, which infuriate Pakistani politicians and the media.

The deaths make it difficult for any Pakistani leader to support the drones publicly. At the same time, the Pakistani disavowals only reinforce the popular notion that the war against the militants merely furthers America's interests, not Pakistanâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s own.

Well, it's good that civilian deaths–"the matter of public perception"– was tacked on afterother"larger" issues.The Times goes on tocite a number of deaths, but then finds someone to justify the killings:

About 500 civilians have been killed in the drone attacks, Talat Masood, a former Pakistani general, estimates. But, he said, the government fails to point out that many of those killed are most likely hosting Qaeda militants and cannot be deemed entirely innocent.

That's not all; Perlez closes with asurvey of Pakistani opinion that serves the piece's point of view nicely:

One intriguing aspect of the drone attacks is that people living in the tribal region under the militants' grip may be more accepting of them than other Pakistanis, according to a recent but limited survey.

Perlez acknowledges that the surveycan be"described as unscientific," but it's clearly too important to the point of the piece toleave out.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.