Read one American analysis, and you’ll be told that U.S. drones haven’t killed a single civilian in Pakistan this year. A look through one pair of local eyes yields a very different result, however. According to the website Pakistan Body Count, America’s drones have only hit a single terrorist in 2010, while slaying dozens and dozens of innocents.
Both Pakistan Body Count, run by computer science professor Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, and the Long War Journal, operated by former G.I. Bill Roggio, rely on the same data: local news accounts. But the two sites use startlingly different methodologies to reach their results. Roggio only counts civilian deaths if they’re specifically mentioned in the news stories. Usmani figures that all reported “Taliban” are, in fact, civilians. It’s a questionable assumption, all-but-discounting the possibility of drones hitting home-grown militants. Nevertheless, the site provides a look at how the U.S. drone strikes are perceived in the country where the Hellfire missiles land.
“Literally the Arabic word ‘Talib’ means student, so ‘Taliban’ means students. Almost 100% of the population of [these] areas go to the local Madarasah for their basic education,” he tells Danger Room. “Therefore we can surely categorize every single habitant of these areas as ‘Talibans.’”
Usmani, an American-educated researcher now working at Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, also uses his site to decry the terrorist attacks in his country. “Whether it is a suicide bombing or an attack by a flying drone, for me it’s the same, a Pakistani got killed,” Pakistan Body Count declares on its home page.
But Usmani doesn’t see a connection between the remotely-piloted airstrikes and the explosive vests. “I highly doubt that U.S. drones are doing anything to stop suicide bombing, as it is evident from the data, the number of suicide bombing is almost directly proportional to the drones attacks. More drones, and we have more SB [suicide bomb] attack[s] in our country,” he e-mails.
Usmani says his site gets about 15,000 visitors a week. His tallies of innocent deaths are wildly different from the estimates produced by the Long War Journal and the New America Foundation. But Usmani’s dark analysis is similar to other Pakistani reports. According to The News of Pakistan, “US drones killed 123 civilians [and] three al-Qaeda men in January.” Dawn’s account is even more morbid: “For each Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die.”
Last month, Faisal Shahzad attempted to bomb Times Square — allegedly as some sort of revenge for drone attacks in Pakistan. That caused the political class in Washington to finally starting wondering whether the unmanned strikes might be driving Pakistani public opinion towards the militants. Read sites like Usman’s, and it’s clear that the resentment has been building for a long time.
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