WASHINGTON - The United States’ drone paradigm is not working as aerial operations in pursuit of elusive Al-Qaeda are fuelling militancy and adding to the woes of marginalised tribal societies, scholar Akbar S Ahmed told a Washington think tank.
Dr Ahmed was speaking at the launch of his latest book ‘The Thistle and the Drone’ at the Brookings Institution, where Mowahid Hussain Shah, Pakistani writer and Sally Quinn, editor-in-chief of the Washington Post’s ‘On Faith’, participated in a colloquium. Khalid Aziz, a Pakistani official, formerly in charge of Waziristan, offered recorded remarks via video.
In the book, Akbar Ahmed, who is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, draws on 40 case studies representing the global span of Islam to demonstrate how the US has become involved directly or indirectly in each of these societies.
The United States has not been able to understand the tribal societies that in return do not understand the US, he noted in the discussion moderated by Martin S Indyk, Vice President and Director, Foreign Policy.
The drones have become symbol of America’s war on terror but ‘the Obama paradigm is not working’, Ahmed, a former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK, remarked, while prescribing a mix of cultural understanding, US cooperation for promotion of education and engagement rather than fight with the tribal people as the way out of the current uncertainty.
“It (the US paradigm) continues to fuel violence - our conclusions offer ways to deal with the situation - force has very limited use - this is a complicated situation – there are no quick fixes, we need long-term solution - we should think - practically if you spend trillions of dollars and what have you really got out of these,” Ahmed said when asked about his assessment of the current US policy.
He disputed the claims that drone strikes are precise and do not kill many civilians and pointed out that the world is not paying attention to the sufferings of tribal people who are caught in chaos on the periphery.
In the book – which is the third volume of Ahmed’s trilogy examining relations between America and the Muslim world - the author argues that if there is a clash it is not between civilisations based on religion.
“The war on terror has been conceptualised as a triangle formed by three points — the United States, the modern state within which the tribes live, and Al-Qaeda.” Mowahid Shah, who is a US Supreme Court attorney and Middle East expert, said by relying solely on the employment of force, the United States has lost the war on terror.
Instead of fighting endless wars, Washington and other world powers need to address Kashmir and Palestinian disputes since they are at the heart of conflicts and turmoil besetting the world.
“Drones are weapons of convenience - they have a short shelf life,” Shah said, while reminding the audience of the contrast between the reliance on force and the past US and American citizens’ cooperation and key role in establishing educational institutions in Pakistan, which won hearts and helped groom generations of students.
The two Pakistani scholars also reflected on the looming 2014 drawdown and future American engagement in the region. “The US cannot pack up and leave” from Afghanistan, Akbar Ahmed stressed, while explaining such an exit would hand over victory to the Taliban.
“We need to rebuild structures that can contain violence,” Akbar added, while underscoring the need to approach the unrest with a political solution. He informed the gathering that the terrorists have killed 400 leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Mowahid Shah, whose book Will and Skill addresses some of the related issues, underlined the need for US leadership to show statesmanship to redress the situation and pave the way for peace and security in the region with long-term solution to the underlying problems.