Writing for the Atlantic, three American academics posed a challenge in their article titled: “You Say Pakistanis All Hate the Drone War? Prove It.” I thought I did prove it a few weeks ago. But I welcome the opportunity to elaborate even further.
The American academics are convinced that a large number of Pakistanis are ignorant of drone strikes, and that another sufficiently large number of Pakistanis support the American drone strikes on Pakistani territory. The academics have relied on a data set by Pew Global Attitudes Project to reach these conclusions. I have demonstrated in an earlier submission that their conclusions are not supported by data. I further illustrate here that the data set is deficient in answering questions of such wide implications.
Let me begin by answering the question, “how many Pakistanis support drone strikes?” Using the same data set as the one used by the American academics I found no more than the 20 respondents out of the 2,000 (i.e., 1 per cent) surveyed by the Pew Global Attitudes Project who truly supported the drone war. Let me explain: if we consider only those respondents who were aware of the drone strikes and who considered drones to be a good thing and went ahead with supporting the drone strikes, they add up to only 20, which is a much smaller number than the one estimated by the American academics.
I would also like to mention that Pew’s questionnaire is deficient in several ways. For instance, some key questions about drones are convoluted while other questions force respondents to either support or oppose the drone attacks. The questionnaire does not allow respondents to declare indifference, i.e., neither support nor oppose drone strikes, which may be the reason why so many chose the option ‘Don’t Know’ or refused to answer the question. I am of the view that the ‘Don’t know’ option in the data set is capturing ignorance of, indifference to, and the refusal to answer questions about drone attacks. Thus, the data set imposes restrictions on one’s ability to infer from it.
Let me first make it clear that my opposition to drone attacks is not a disguised support for the Taliban. I consider Taliban to be murderous thugs who pose a clear and present danger to Pakistani people and the State. I am, however, also convinced that the American drone attacks weaken the efforts by the Pakistani State and the civil society to confront the menace head-on.
Pew data limitations
Data analysis is somewhat similar to being interrogated by an intelligence agency in the dungeons of the Lahore Fort. Given enough servings of torture, eventually the suspect, in our case the data, will say whatever the interrogator wants. The American academics have also acted like Punjab Police. First, they have tortured data enough to ensure it sang their ideological song. Second, just like the Pakistani Police, they have discarded useful evidence that contradicted their assumptions.
The Pew data is not sufficient to support the conclusions drawn by the American academics. In addition to the data deficiencies I have mentioned in my earlier blog, let me explain my additional concerns about the data and the methods used. The Pew Centre’s questionnaire posed a convoluted question about the support for drone attacks, which suggested to the respondents that the drones will be managed by the Pakistani authorities and not the Americans. Even with a highly misleading question, only 23 per cent reported the support for drone attacks whereas another 32 per cent registered outright opposition to the drone attacks (see the table below).
|Support or oppose drone strikes||Freq.||Percent|