Ayesha Shahid, Grand Forks, letter: A mistake, an apology and another try
By Ayesha Shahid Words can hurt. It seems that my column from last week has offended many people -- and in part, that was due to a mistake that I made, one for which I apologize ("UAVs: Jobs in N.D., violent death in Pakistan," Page D3, July 4). ...
By Ayesha Shahid
Words can hurt. It seems that my column from last week has offended many people -- and in part, that was due to a mistake that I made, one for which I apologize ("UAVs: Jobs in N.D., violent death in Pakistan," Page D3, July 4).
Today, I'd like to set the record straight and also try to clarify my message from last week, which I realize was not presented as clearly as it should have been.
My mistake was in believing that the U.S. Air Force's unmanned aerial vehicles that eventually will come to Grand Forks Air Force Base would carry missiles or other ordnance for use in Pakistan and other places overseas.
But those aircraft won't be doing so. Personnel at the base have told me that the UAV mission coming to Grand Forks only includes Global Hawks at this point. And Global Hawks are aircraft designed only for surveillance: They do not carry warheads and won't be used for attacking targets.
I should have uncovered that fact before writing my column, and again, I apologize for not doing so. If I had known, I believe the tone of my column would have been different and less accusatory.
Thinking about my words in retrospect, I realize that I also could have done a better job of presenting my case. My point was simply that in this great blossoming of UAV research and activity in North Dakota, there are military aspects that should be taken into account.
And actually, I really was not trying to accuse the U.S. of anything. Rather, I meant to emphasize the relevance of the program to North Dakotans as well as Pakistanis.
I recognize that the U.S. drone program is here to stay. Because of the nature of the enemy, the geography and the war in northwest Pakistan, the drone program is America's most effective tactic to reach militants in Pakistan's "extra-judicial" or tribally controlled areas.
Both the U.S. and the Pakistani governments are trying to overcome the same enemy. But continuous news of drone strikes being directed from the U.S. into Pakistan can at times create a perception that the two countries are pitted against each other instead of being allies.
As a result, Pakistan seems in the U.S. to be a place that supports an evil, faceless enemy, a place where any normal citizen suddenly can join the militants and become one of them. Meanwhile, in Pakistan itself, drone strikes causing innocent casualties become grievances and symbols of anger and helplessness felt by some Pakistani citizens.
Because of similar negative reactions by Iraqis and Afghanis, the U.S. military re-evaluated its strategy in both countries and now gives much higher priority to ensuring the least possible collateral damage.
In such situations, where it is not entirely clear who the militants are, who the civilians are or how the U.S. choose its targets, misperceptions spread quickly and contribute to what radicalization there is among Pakistanis and other Muslims.
In my view, what Pakistanis and Americans can do to help the situation is to demand transparency from drone program administrators. Not only will that bring into light the nature of our countries' common enemy, but also it will help remind Americans that most Pakistanis are not potential Taliban and al-Qaida members.
Likewise, once Pakistanis are more aware of the care the U.S. is taking to be accurate and not hurt civilians, that will help alleviate their grievances as well.
In other words, one aspect of the radicalization of Pakistanis is the perception in that country that the targeting is careless or indiscriminate. So, if Americans insist that their government run a transparent operation, that will challenge this perception and help create common ground with Pakistanis.
My point in writing simply is to urge North Dakotans (and all Americans) to recognize that the use of drones can have unintended consequences -- namely, the radicalization of a portion of the population in Pakistan. That means it would be in America and Pakistan's best interest to conduct drone operations in such a way as to keep that radicalization to a minimum.
Shahid is an intern at the Herald. A native of Pakistan, she is a student at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.