The escalation of drone attacks by the United States in Pakistan’s northwestern region, a topic of much recent contention between the two nations, has lead to a stark increase in anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis. While the policy started under the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has increased the use of the strikes in Pakistan from one per year to nearly one every four days. Although the purpose of the strategy is to decrease terrorist activities by targeting militant groups— including the Taliban and Al-Qaeda— it seems to be doing just the opposite. Collateral damage resulting from the attacks creates nothing but support for militant groups who use civilian deaths as leverage to garner support from the people of northwestern Pakistan, particularly in the tribal areas of Waziristan, a region that the Pakistani government has little control over.
With an estimated 2,451 Pakistanis killed in drone attacks since 2004, anger towards the US is growing not only among militant hard-liners, but among a majority of Pakistani citizens. Those primarily affected by drone strikes in northwestern Pakistan are in the most defenseless position in the country. Largely ignored by Pakistan’s federal government, regional institutions have failed to address the problems of the area’s residents. Already facing staggering rates of poverty and unemployment, young men in Waziristan are much more susceptible to recruitment from Taliban commandos who capitalize on their vulnerability. Add relatives and friends being killed in drone strikes to a lack of economic opportunity and you have a recipe for disaster.
But even more frightening than the fact that groups like the Taliban are gaining legitimacy in Pakistan’s northwest is
that the expression of their discontent comes in the form of suicide bomb blasts. The frequency with which suicide attacks have been occurring in Pakistan since the beginning of the Obama Administration is alarming. Nearly 5,000 people have died and over 12,000 have been injured in suicide blasts in Pakistan, with 83 attacks occurring in 2009 alone.
It doesn’t take an expert to reason that the simultaneous rise in drone strikes and suicide bombings is not coincidental. Members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban carry out these attacks as a display of anger against the Pakistani government for maintaining relations with the United States, a country who they see as an aggressor against Pakistani civilians. Suicide attacks have occurred in all of Pakistan’s major cities, bringing a conflict many Pakistanis once saw as being restricted to the tumultuous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan into the lives of people living in the most concentrated urban hubs of the country. US involvement in Pakistan is becoming harder for Pakistanis to ignore and it is contributing to the growing frustration with terrorism they feel is caused by American policies. Suicide attacks have become something of an everyday reality for the average Pakistani. And in a country where suicide bombings were virtually unheard of prior to 9/11, this reality has Pakistanis asking how much longer they will have to keep fighting America’s war.