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-Photo Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan
-Photo Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan

Christine Fair, an American academic, supports the drone warfare because it keeps the remotely-based pilots safe. “At the end of the day if the drone goes down, the pilot still goes home for dinner,” she recently told the BBC.

The Washington-based academic argued that the drones were here to stay because they allowed the US to “be more risk acceptant” knowing that the drones dropping bombs in Pakistan are being piloted from thousands of miles away.

The Obama administration and several American academics have taken upon themselves to defend the illegal and amoral drone warfare against Pakistan. Yet, an overwhelming majority of legal experts agree that the use of drones to kill militants, let alone civilians, is illegal. No country, irrespective of its economic or military clout, is permitted to wage wars in secret. Given that the drone warfare against Pakistan could not be justified on legal grounds, it is therefore interesting to see academics justifying the use of drones on the grounds that pilots will be safely home for dinner, even if their drones were to crash in Waziristan.

In the same interview, Professor Fair mentions her discomfort with the deaths caused by the drones. “I don’t like that my country is in the business of extra-judicial killings,” she said. This is one heck of a lame statement. I don’t “like” being served lukewarm tea. But when it comes to extra-judicial killings, I am enraged.

TV interviews often present out of context quotes. It is possible that Professor Fair’s comments were taken out of context. To ensure that I comment instead on well-contextualised arguments, I have chosen to review a recent unpublished paper by Professor Fair and two co-authors in which they argue that 40 per cent of Pakistanis, who are aware of the drone strikes, support America’s drone warfare.

Had this been a paper submitted by graduate students in my research methods course, it would have certainly received a failing grade. Setting aside the paper’s academic shortcomings, anyone familiar with the widespread anger and disgust against the drone attacks would be surprised with the finding that 40 per cent Pakistanis support drone warfare. One would obviously be curious to determine how the learned authors reached this and other conclusions, especially when the same survey has consistently shown that 93 per cent or more Pakistanis consider drones a bad thing.

Using the publically available 2010 data from Pew Global Attitudes Project, the authors analysed the 2,000 responses from Pakistan and concluded the following:

“The overview of the Pakistani attitudes toward drone strikes shows that most Pakistanis (at least 43 per cent) are unaware of the drone strikes in Fata. Of those who are aware and have an opinion, Pakistanis oppose drone strikes by a 60-40 per cent margin … We sought to explain why some Pakistanis oppose the drone strikes, while others do not. We argued that the primary reason driving opposition to the drone strikes was the negative elite discourse in the popular media. Since the average Pakistani depends on the popular Urdu media for information on the drone strikes, they are fed a steady diet of negative stories about the drone strikes.”

Bud-Tameez, Urdu Medium

Professor Fair and her colleagues argued that because the Urdu print and electronic media are overwhelmingly against the drone strikes, hence those who consume news in Urdu are influenced by the biased media. On the other hand, the ‘enlightened’ readers of English news are exposed to pro-drone arguments; hence they are more sympathetic to drone strikes. And lastly, 43 per cent of Pakistanis are simply ignorant of drone strikes.

Since I have access to the same data set, which I have made publically available, I believe that their conclusions and the underlying logic are both flawed.

Let me first address the argument that somehow there is a healthy support for pro-drone sentiments in the English press in Pakistan. Professor Fair and colleagues mention fewer than 10 op-eds, published primarily in The Daily Times, by writers residing abroad that could be interpreted as offering, at best, a tacit support for drone strikes in Pakistan. The reality is that there are hardly any pro-drone columnists in Pakistan who write in English, Urdu, or in other regional languages. In fact, if there is a consensus in Pakistan on any one matter, it is the unanimous opposition to American drone strikes on Pakistan’s territory.

At the same time, I fail to understand how fewer than a dozen op-eds sympathetic to drones out of literally thousands of opinion pieces published in Pakistan are able to sway the opinion of 40 per cent of Pakistanis. Those must be some very persuasive columnists capable of such influence on their readers.

Since I have been a reporter with The Frontier Post and an editorial assistant with The News in Islamabad, I can explain why it is not possible for the English press in Pakistan to influence 40 per cent of Pakistanis. I would argue that the combined print-run of all English dailies in Pakistan is likely to be less than the circulation of a single major Urdu daily in Karachi alone. Given the relatively small circulation of English newspapers and the fact that most Pakistanis do not even subscribe to newspapers in the first place, the English news-media certainly cannot influence 40 per cent of Pakistanis.

And what about the fact that the Urdu TV channels command all TV viewership in Pakistan. The same columnists who write in either English or Urdu moonlight as talk show hosts where drones have yet to find a sympathetic corner.

Lost and found in translation

Professor Fair and colleagues conclude that “most Pakistanis are not aware of the drone campaign, as evidenced by the Pew data.” I believe the problem lies with the survey questionnaire and the authors’ gullibility who took the responses at face value. The Pew survey asked respondents the following: How much, if anything, have you heard about drone attacks that target leaders of extremist groups — a lot, little, or nothing at all? For Pakistani respondents, this is a convoluted question, which inquires about the extent of specific knowledge pertaining to attacks that target leaders of extremist groups.

Truthfully, even I don’t know anything about the drone attacks that target leaders of extremist groups. The US and Pakistan’s governments are tightlipped about drone operations and conjecture is not sufficient for me to say a lot or little about specific attacks. However, this also does not imply that I and millions of Pakistanis are ignorant of the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and the deaths of civilians, including children, caused by the drone attacks.

Do 40 per cent of Pakistanis favour drone attacks?

The long-winded question by the Pew Global Attitudes Project and the not so careful interpretation by the authors are partly to blame for the erroneous conclusion that 40 per cent of Pakistanis who are aware of the drone strikes favour them. In the three-part question, the interviewer asks the respondent the following:

“Now I’m going to read you a list of things the United States might do to combat extremist groups in Pakistan. For each one, please tell me whether you would support or oppose it.

a. Providing financial and humanitarian aid to areas where extremist groups operate b. Providing intelligence and logistical support to Pakistani troops fighting extremist groups c. Conducting drone attacks in conjunction with the Pakistani government against leaders of extremist groups.

1 Support 2 Oppose 8 Don’t know 9 Refused “

By the time the respondent is asked the third part of the same question, the US is no longer mentioned and the question sounds more like the Pakistani government conducting the drone strikes. Based on other answers received in the same survey, I am of the view that the respondents were confused between the Pakistani and the US governments using the drones. I believe that those who say they would support drones thought they answered the question about Pakistani government conducting the drone attacks. The true support for drone warfare in Pakistan will only be gauged from the question where the respondents are asked if they would support the American drone strikes against the wishes of the Pakistani government.

Even with the poorly worded question, only 17 per cent of the respondents in 2012 indicated that they would support drone attacks, provided the government of Pakistan is involved in the operations. This is significantly different from what Professor Fair and her colleagues have claimed when they stated, “that a sizeable number of Pakistanis who know about the drones support their use.”

And whereas, one in three Pakistanis believed in 2010 that drones were necessary to defend Pakistan against extremist groups, by 2012 only one in five believed the same, suggesting that regardless of how one measures the support for drones in Pakistan, it is rather non-existent or is collapsing rapidly.

An F for the effort

Why would I assign a failing grade to this paper? Even if one overlooks the serious shortcomings I have mentioned so far or ignore the mis-specifications in the statistical analysis (click here for details), one cannot overlook the fact that the authors fail to include any empirical evidence in support of their thesis statement that “the primary reason driving opposition to the drone strikes was the negative elite discourse in the popular media.” Read their paper and you will be hard-pressed to find any empirical evidence in support of their thesis statement.

The empirical evidence, as per Pew data from 2010, in fact states the opposite. Those Pakistanis who thought of media having a good influence supported drone strikes more than those who thought of media having a bad influence.

The fact remains that drone strikes do not have any support in Pakistan’s civil society or amongst the members of armed forces. Speaking with the BBC in the same documentary, Brigadier Hassan Hayat said, “There is no public acceptance, and there is no military acceptance of the drones. So it is very difficult to say that they [the Americans] are doing the right thing because the sentiments [here] are against the drones.”

One should not oppose the drone strikes merely because there is no evidence of the drones’ efficacy in stemming the tide of violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even if the drones were able to control violence, one should oppose drone attacks on the principle that wars cannot, and should not, be waged in secret.


Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (45) Closed

Ajay Jan 02, 2013 03:36pm
Sound logic; Any comments on the Pakistan govt. waging its proxy wars through terrorists outfit and calling them 'non state' actors ?
Sultan Jan 02, 2013 01:07pm
Intriguing article. I for one absolutely agree with drone strikes. As Pakistan is NOT going to clean up this monster mess, self created btw, thankfully the Americans are doing our dirty work. We should ourselves be doing it but we are not. Thus Pakistan cries foul etc but secretly totally supports it. Our troops are not risked and there is no loss of life per se apart from terrorist usually who deserve to be killed. And please dont talk about collateral damage as we pakistanis kill more in secterian violence daily then those innocents killed in drone strikes added up even for the year. And I am not even counting daily jihadi induced bombings in cities and the carnage associated with it. If Pakistan is so bothered about these strikes why doesnt it go to the International Court of Justice? Because Pakistan in morally bankrupt. Sad but true. These zealots who threaten civilization, female education, polio vaccination etc etc ABSOLUTELY deserve to be decimated and THANK YOU USA for doing our dirty work.
zafars Jan 02, 2013 01:39pm
When the overwhelmingly reportis of drone strikes are headlined here in this newspaper beign with ' X Militants killed' then one can undertsand why reader's of the english press may not think so badly about drone strikes
Mohammad Assad Jan 02, 2013 01:40pm
Good reply to the rather ignorant piece earlier in favor of drones from Anas Abbas
Khanm Jan 02, 2013 01:54pm
Wonder why no one from Pakistan side ever comes to the media and raise their concern of this illegal act. I guess they also go home and have dinner with their families just like those remote drone pilots.....
Atif Jan 02, 2013 01:49pm
a true voice of Pakistanis...
Sceptic Jan 02, 2013 03:42pm
Brilliant. You said it as it is.
abbastoronto Jan 02, 2013 05:42pm
Dr. Cameron Munter, the just retired most Pak-Friendly US top diplomat in history, stated that he was NEVER questioned about the Drones in his frequent encounters with the Pakistani street. Illegal or not, right or wrong, Pakistanis unhappy about drones are a vocal miniscule minority.
Imran Jan 02, 2013 05:23pm
I have to say I agree with you. Better to send drones than to have our soldiers beheaded. Furthermore, if PAF wanted, whats to stop them from shooting these drones down? Its not like they're going to fire back.
Nina Jan 02, 2013 05:29pm
How do you know about the intended targets of the air force? Unless you are the Director of Operations of PAF I think we can safely ignore your comment.
dkg Jan 02, 2013 02:02pm
"Even if the drones were able to control violence, one should oppose drone attacks on the principle that wars cannot, and should not, be waged in secret." What about Proxy War, Mr.Author? What is Pakistani Administration doing seriously to control/ neutralize militants where drone attacks are taking place despite getting their soldiers butchered regularly, leave aside citizens by talibans? and top of all- Are Pakistani Administration and People/Media really interested in fighting against Terrorism when they are openly claiming that they are taliban "fighters" rather than "terrorist" - (as published few days back in DAWN when 9 bullet ridden bodies of taliban "fighters" were found rather than bodies of terrorists)?
shuaib Jan 02, 2013 12:42pm
excellent write up.
raika45 Jan 02, 2013 01:48pm
Murtaza sahib. Pretty long discourse here. Unfortunately or otherwise I stopped after a few line especially after your quote that "No country irrespective of it's economic or military clout is permitted to wage wars in secret" Reminds me of Pakistan and the mujaheddins it sent to Kashmir but denied doing so..The kargil adventure which your country disclaimed but was later found out that Musharraf sectioned.Sahib first look at your own house before pointing fingers at others.I am sure that this will not be posted on Dawn online, but I hope the moderators show this to you.No offence meant, but you should get your facts right.
Jawad. Jan 02, 2013 01:23pm
''One should not oppose the drone strikes merely because there is no evidence of the drones
Fishy Jan 02, 2013 01:38pm
Bravo Dr Murtaza What a wonderful article. I wish our Op-Ed pieces resemble remotely like this. Anyway, I would point out another thing. "What about PAF conducting air strikes in Tribal Areas"? Just because our government conducts it makes it legal? These strikes are not always conducted in the areas where there is active fights going on but mostly conducted in the dead silence of night on houses where there are suspected presence of terrorists. Is it legal for a government to sign death warrant of anyone who might be present in a place where it is "suspected" that some terrorist may be hiding. Waiting for your response?
citizen Jan 02, 2013 04:16pm
... and your ABSOLUTE trust on the USA is astounding.
G.A. Jan 02, 2013 01:13pm
Christine (not so) Fair. Good work Mr. Haider. I think this is the second time you have called her out on her unfair presentation. A lot of painstaking work from you here and very commendable.
Agha Ata (USA) Jan 02, 2013 03:11pm
If it is illegal to target people by drones, than how legal would that be when the same people come and kill innocent children, women and people in the cities of Pakistan?
IbDi Jan 02, 2013 02:44pm
I also watched the BBC documentary & from Pakistan prospective it missed the point; basically our fault as I think we are wasting our energy in the wrong directions. It's not the drones we shall be protesting against (they may be accurate, if not will get better with technology), it's the violation of our air space! No foreigner should be allowed to come in & kill anyone inhibiting in our area (locals, guests) without a green signal from our side. But than as the Wikileak revealed that our politicians have sold us already so no point blaming USA
Javid Jan 03, 2013 09:00pm
Excellent article by the author. I personally tried to engage Prof. Fair in the drone argument and when confronted with facts she just runs away saying you don't know what you are talking about. For those who support drone strikes my only question to them is "what happened to the rule of law" how can you kill people based on suspicion and shoddy intelligence. If your argument is "they kill indiscriminately so we will kill too" then you stoop down to their level and the vicious killing cycle starts, which is going on for the last 8 years and by the way "they" the suspects are never tried, proven or brought to justice...just is a flawed strategy that has not worked
Raheel Adnan Jan 03, 2013 09:37am
Well written!
JP Singh Jan 02, 2013 03:46pm
Leaving aside the political ramifications and the ethical use of drones look at the technological aspect of using drones. Launching of a drone is over all cheaper then scrambling an F-16 for a pin point mission. Financially it costs less. An F-16 will be picked up by radars in Pakistan and in Russia. The Pakistani government wil have to answer as to what the Pak Airforce was doing when their airspace was being violated. Drones cant be ppicked up by radar so the Govt gets an alibi - oh we didnt see it coming. Now its easy for the Pakistani Govt to protest after the incedent make noise and let the issue die out. Americans operate in a very complicated Command & Control environment which is not very easy for a layman to comprehend. Human safety scores a lot on the chart. Most Americans wont know what a drone is and if it crashes it doesnt dent their minds. But if an F-16 goes duff on a mission with its pilot -- the govt has to answer a lot of questions. In that case some Americans will wake up and ask a question -- Where is Afgahnistan? What the heck are we doing there? It becomes a political issue in the US. Drone produces a monotone response from the Americans.
ZF Jan 02, 2013 03:43pm
Dr. Murtaza, your analysis reminds me, research methods and statistics, can act as a double edged sword. The right method and application can discover evidence, shape policies to change human life for bette, if the same applied wrongfully, would show and change false negatives to actual negatives and false positives to actual positives. Dr. Fair's fairness is definitely questionable, your ability to call spade a spade across 49th Parallel is commendable for sure, it made me feel proud.
Imran Jan 02, 2013 05:15pm
Nobody is saying that is legal.
Cyrus Howell Jan 04, 2013 04:45am
No Guts. No Glory.
Feroz Jan 04, 2013 05:15am
Can we get this Ummah concept out of our head, all other religions are tacitly following the same. But they do not coin the idea of Christian nation and alienate all other religious entity. It is high time we focus on Pakistan and built what we could be built at our own rather beg for support, as we did for Nuclear Program and out of the secrete donation the big chunk in pocketed by the few. Armed Drones when operational will not be pitched on western borders, we all know that....These assets are dedicated for the perceived threats from the regular and conventional adversaries. Using same in FATA will divert the anger of locals to PAF and Armed Forces.
Rao Jan 02, 2013 05:02pm
Every Pakistani is pointing finger at only Americans, but have they ever thought about the collusion of Pak Army with Americans. Americans give aid , so Army allows them to use drones. Politicians & Generals are lining up their pockets with aid money and they care least about Pak civilians. If Pak Army can ask Americans to leave the bases in Pakistan after killing Osama, what is stopping them to take such a stand regarding drone attacks? Why can't PAF shoot down those drones?
KKRoberts Jan 02, 2013 04:39pm
Drones are made to use in Asia and Africa.They will never use it in a white man's land for sure, especially in the US and Europe.
FoolishInc Jan 02, 2013 04:49pm
"No country irrespective of it
lord Jan 02, 2013 01:35pm
Well Written and thought provoking article , enoungh is enough .We say and all over the world really meant it when we citizens of world say "NO more collateral damage and drone attacks" on wedding and funereals... Would you killed a innocent child if it meant that it wouid end all the world miseries?
cautious Jan 02, 2013 06:19pm
The issue is whether the USA uses fighter bombers or drones - something that few Pakistani's seem to contemplate. Drones are superior to fighter bombers in that they are stealthy, can stay aloft for many hours, don't risk pilots, and provide a more stable platform which in theory should reduce civilian casualties. The issues isn't drones vs no drones and the USA has made that clear time and again.
karim Jan 02, 2013 06:36pm
Drone attacks need to be increased on terrorists in Pakistan.
Tariq Jan 02, 2013 07:27pm
There will come a day, in the near future, when the relatives of drone victims' will file law suites against the American government for the illegal use of drones which will cost the Americans billions of dollars!
Aadil Pahalwan Jan 02, 2013 07:50pm
I remember when i was young PAF had a slogan, SLEEP TIGHT TONIGHT PAF IS AWAKE - what an ironic statement to make!
RV Jan 02, 2013 08:00pm
Dr. Haider It is interesting that you live and work in Canada and claim to be a Pakistani! What exactly is point of this article? Are you trying to prove that you are smarter than Prof. Fair? First of all, what is the purpose of drone attacks? It is not to protect Pakistan or Pakistanis from terrorists. It is to protect American interests from terrorists. From that point of view, the sovereignity of Pakistan becomes irrelevant, the view of majority of Pakistani's becomes irrelevant. US had to resort to drone attacks only because Pakistani military could not be trusted. If Pakistani's were to launch such a program to pretect themselves from terrorist attacks, do you really think that majority of Pakistanis would object?
Md Imran Jan 03, 2013 03:26pm
Few people realize that PAF is developing its own armed drones which will be a game changer ! Under the cloak of darkness, PAF drones will take control of our skies once again to uphold the sovereignity of our land. Pakistan can then build forward bases for drones to protect rest of the ummah. I have said this before, we need to start investing in aircraft carriers. The ummah nations can fund it , and PNS has the capability to build and operate it. We can then create a game changing carrier force around the world. Lets see what Prof.Fair will say then.
caramelizedonion Jan 03, 2013 12:03am
Thankfully, I did not need a thorough analysis to convince me Christine Fair is full of bias towards Pentagon and the U.S.
alp Jan 03, 2013 12:32am
We expect too much from the Westerners and nothing from ourselves at all. What to say of remote Americans has Pakistan brought any terrorists to justice through legal system? Have Malala's attackers captured? Have any terrorists been ever captured?
Khan Baba Jan 03, 2013 03:01am
raika45 - Did Mr Murtaza support the Kashmir and Kargil adventure? You can't even read one article withou being biased. You have preconcieved biased mentality dear - you get your facts right.
Khan Baba Jan 03, 2013 03:04am
Yes good idea - PAF shoots the drones then America starts shooting Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad etc. What do you do then?
waqas Jan 03, 2013 03:50am
Excellent articel.... the best point is conclusions are drwan based on reasoning rather than conjecture
farmerdr Jan 03, 2013 04:46am
Two wrongs
Banjo Jan 03, 2013 07:30am
I am a Pakistani and I do support the drone strikes
Feroz Jan 03, 2013 07:33am
can you be specific about the guests and the activity they are allowed to carry out. Have a heart get these unwanted guest out of your territory and you will be justifiable to retaliate against the intruders. And what about the same guest attacking your defense installations, religious places and rituals
Aziz Qureshi Jan 06, 2013 10:59pm
There are drones on both sides of the war. It is only the nature of the drones that differ. While the american drones are controlled from a NOC thousands of miles away, the taliban drones are remote controlled from the nearby madrassa or other fundamentalist training ground. This "drone" is nothing but your average suicide bomber who is brainwashed into sacrificing his life and the that of dozens of innocents when they unleash their terror in crowded bazaars. At least the American drones take out the bad guys along with the good ones. Any policy against this kind of warfare should apply equally to both kind of drones. Get it?