OP-ED

Yemen following in the footsteps of Pakistan?

By Yenus S

The presence of Al Qaeda operatives, tribal politics, the relatively corrupt government officials and the ever increasing public anger over civilian causalities due to drone attacks, are some of the common denominators one finds between Yemen and Pakistan.

Al Qaeda operatives in both countries enjoy public support. The drone business has given militants the “legitimacy” to continue fighting the US, as dejected civilians continue to join their ranks.

Civilians have disowned their governments and aligned with the militants. The governments have shown little effort to protect them from drone attacks. In fact, people consider their governments complicit with the US droning.

The US seems determined to use drones in the foreseeable future. In doing so, the US and the respective governments are losing public support and trust.

Despite US military and intelligence support, the governments of Pakistan and Yemen don’t seem to win the war. On the other hand, Al Qaeda is becoming stronger and stronger.

The April 26, 2014 issue of The Economist (Yemen, America and Al Qaeda: Droning on) states that “anger over civilian causalities is growing. A strike last December hit a wedding convoy in Bayda, killing as many as 15 civilians.”

“Every time a drone strike kills a civilian, Al Qaeda grows stronger,” says a tribal leader from the central province of Marib, which has seen many strikes.

Former US congressman from Texas, Ron Paul, also explained how US drone war undermines American values. He said, “One thing we do know is that one of the strongest recruiting tools for Al Qaeda is the US being there using drones against people or occupying Muslim countries.”

He continued, “How can we get rid of all people who may seek to do us harm if our drones and occupation policies continually create even more Al Qaeda members?” (Eurasia review, April 28, 2014).

Perhaps one of the reasons why the US-Yemen and US-Pakistan alliance has failed to win the war on militants is that, they have underestimated the role of public support in the “win equation”.

Without public support Al Qaeda is a “fish without water” said a friend of mine, the other day.

A campaign to generate public support and try to win the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens should be given top priority if something is to be achieved.

Let’s remember that the US had used the same technique in Iraq – by persuading and training the local militia, known as Sahwa, who fought Al Qaeda head on and gave a knockout blow to the insurgency.

The move has contributed to cornering and ultimately thrashing out Al Qaeda from its stronghold areas.

Al Qaeda cannot be dealt with solely through intensive droning and provision of military support to incumbent governments.

Though limited military campaigns may be necessary at specific times, strengthening people’s support and increasing trust in their governments remain the key to winning the war.

Sahwas are desperately needed in Yemen and Pakistan to win the war. This is an alternative option to drone business, which pundits have been campaigning quite for some time, but to no avail.

The US, Yemeni, and Pakistani governments should stop falling in love with drones. The ill-advised, if not disastrous, drone practice is buying more enemies than friends.

At the end of the day, the people of Yemen and Pakistan are paying a heavy price.