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



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