Earlier this month, on 6 September, the government of Pakistan sanctioned its first drone strike on home territory, killing three ‘high profile terrorists’. US drone strikes in the country have been commonplace since the Bush administration, and have continued to escalate in frequency under Barack Obama, with 408 attacks culminating in an estimated 2,414 casualties since 2004. However, this strike was the first launched using hardware made on home soil and under Pakistani military direction, signalling a switch to a more aggressive, hard-line approach to anti-terrorism by the government there.
Amid widespread disapproval of the tactic locally, what sort of precedent does the strike create? Furthermore, are measures that put the lives of civilians at risk being favoured over peaceful methods, in a country beset with extremism and conflict?
Drone strikes have been condemned by both the general population of Pakistan and the wider international community in recent years. Many observers – among them former President Jimmy Carter – argue that drone strikes may stir extremism and aid terrorist recruitment by fuelling anti-American rhetoric.
In the 408 drone strikes in Pakistan recorded since 2004, there have been an estimated 421 civilians killed, including 172 children, according to The Economist. Could there be there other options?
Instead of adopting tactics that put civilians at risk, more credence could be given to peacebuilding methods that emphasise empowering and educating citizens, persuading them to seek peaceful and constructive relations at the community level and reject violent extremism. One such organisation that is transforming the lives of individuals, families, and communities in rural Pakistan is our partner there, Aware Girls.
Aware Girls is committed to educating at-risk young people on the dangers of religious extremism. They operate in some of the most dangerous and deeply conservative regions in Pakistan – including FATA province where the drone strike on 6 September detonated. Here extremist group recruitment is rife.
Aware Girls train and send volunteer peace educators to schools, towns and villages to dissuade young people from radicalisation, instead teaching tolerance and acceptance. Run and staffed mainly by women, Aware Girls also seek to promote the role that women can play in civil society and increase political participation among women.
To hear more about how Aware Girls are transforming the lives of vulnerable young men and women in rural Pakistan, tune in to our Radio 4 appeal on 18 October (at 7:55am and 9:26pm) or on 22 October (3:27pm). Kamila Shamsie – author of the acclaimed A God in Every Stone and Burnt Shadows – will be telling the story of Imran, a suicide bomber who never was, thanks to our peacebuilding project in Pakistan.