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The US drones program -

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EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Pakistan's Prime Minister is in Washington this week and will meet President Obama tomorrow at the White House. The issue of drones is likely to be raised, one of a number of delicate matters testing the bilateral relationship. Our guest tonight is Akbar Ahmed who served as Pakistan's high commissioner to Britain and now lives in Washington where he's referred to as ambassador. He's referred to the chair of Islamic Studies at the Islamic University in Washington and has written a book about America's controversial drones program. He joins us from the US capital now.

Ambassador Ahmed, thanks for being with us.


EMMA ALBERICI: Your book is called the Thistle and the Drone, how America's war on terror became a global war on tribal Islam. You write that the US has been fighting the wrong war with the wrong tactics against the wrong enemy and getting the wrong results. What should Washington have done differently in its response to the September 11 attacks?

AKBAR AHMED: I think it should have understood the tribal nature of these societies, the fact that they already were in turmoil, there was conflict between where these tribes lived and the central government for decades, if not for half a century, one century at least and that these were impoverished areas desperate for development. Now there are some bad guys among them, militants among them, I have administered these areas and I know that you have to deal with them strongly and without any ambiguity, they have to be check. But the way to go about it is not to antagonise entire societies. What the drone does it literally antagonises the entire section or clan or tribe which means for every one bad guy killed you end up antagonising maybe 10,000, 15,000 and therefore the lines for the suicide bombers are unending, as you can see, they're regularly every couple of days there are suicide bombing killing law ministers recently in Pakistan, a full General in Pakistan, killing schoolchildren, attack on a church. All these are linked to these drone says. This is what they say. They say this is a form of revenge for what has been done for us.

EMMA ALBERICI: So what is the more proportionate response? What's the alternative?

AKBAR AHMED: The more proportionate response, this is the big question facing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif now because it comes with a huge political mandate. His top priority literally is to check the law and order situation, particularly on the western border of Pakistan where the tribal areas are and they're the drone strikes are complicating matters for him because they have become a highly emotional and symbolic and very visibly debated controversy around America's role in this war on terror. He has reached out and said I will have unconditional dialogue with the Taliban. In response the Taliban had a series of really devastating attacks on Pakistan and that's put him in a very awkward predicament. Does he carry on with dialogue or does he back off and use the army which has been used before and has not resulted in anything positive. So he's got to find ways to tackle this and again, my book, the Thistle and the Drone, examines 40 tribal societies across the world. 40 is a large number, probably the largest any social scientist has gathered and on the basis of that study have I have an entire chapter pointing out how you can tackle these societies successfully?

EMMA ALBERICI: How is that?

AKBAR AHMED: One way is to reach out to the elders, the chiefs, the religious leaders who want cooperation, who want some kind of normalcy, who want sanity, whose traditional role is to mediate conflict. Now they've been brushed aside because when you bomb them, whether through the drone or through the central government army, the Pakistan army has been in Waziristan several times, or even when you have the suicide bombers killing their own people, remember the suicide bombers also target these traditional chiefs. When all these happens then that local tribal society literally falls apart and in that falling apart you have the emergence of these anarchic militants, the suicide bombers, often killing themselves, killing anyone who becomes a target, anyone they don't like and that is anarchy and you cannot permit anarchy. The Government of Pakistan must establish the writ of State right up to its borders. That is the challenge the PM of Pakistan faces and the President of the US faces in their dialogue with each other.

EMMA ALBERICI: Well of course the President of the US talks about the fact that his intelligence is highly accurate, that sometimes there will be some tragic collateral damage around that but on the whole they are quite successfully attacking their targets?

AKBAR AHMED: You know, it's not a question of numbers. As I've said, I've been in charge of these people, I know them and I know that you may kill two people who are wanted, who are genuinely wanted, really bad guys and you can't have any dialogue with them though there must be a process of law. Let's say you have killed those two. In the process you may kill 20 or 30 completely innocent people and there are many, many such examples. And in the process you terrorise an entire community. Now we have documented, because I have many contacts in these societies, people write to me, I communicate to them. We have terrorised an entire generation. Kids are growing up terrorised. They can't sleep at night. The drone buzzes overhead all night, it doesn't go away. It's like an eye in the sky; it's watching you and they don't know when it's going to strike. I worry about the long term. What sort of adults will these youngsters become 10 years from now. Will they have enough hatred and anger to want to do something violent or go on and take revenge for? Remember they're working in the code of revenge also in that society. Would they then implement that code of revenge? We have to ask these questions if we want a more stable world, a more peaceful world. So I think we have to step back as a world community from this blaming and accusing each other and say how do we resolve these issues? Forget the process of whether we've killed only two bad guys and we don't kill innocent people, these are semantics. The fact is the realities, lots of studies that a lot of innocent people get killed and even if one innocent person dies that's too much.

EMMA ALBERICI: We heard the Pakistani Prime Minister is currently in Washington and I understand you have actually met with him. Has this issue of drones damaged that relationship between America and Pakistan?

AKBAR AHMED: Well he was in the lead up to the elections and has taken PM very much emphatic on the fact that the drones must stop. He's requested Secretary Kerry twice before he came to Washington and last night we had the honour of having dinner with him, the Pakistani community here. And we heard him, he was very frank, he really shared his sentiments, his inner sentiments, as it were, speaking in the Urdu language to speak out to us. He covered a lot of grounds. He emphasised the relationship which was the bigger picture between the US and Pakistan and what he emphasised was that Pakistan must have relationship which is stable, which is long-term, which is based in trade and commerce, not in aid, which is so asymmetrical and not in terms of war on terror alone. He was really trying to realign this relationship which is what I think the US also wants. So the drone in that sense, which is highly controversial, I don't think he wants to make it very visible. But I am sure that that will come up with President Obama because high upon his list of priorities. There have been politicians like Imran Khan who now heads that province, the old frontier province and he has said if ever I became PM my first act will be to ask the Pakistan Air Force to shoot down the drones and just that act would have enormous implications for international relations. So feelings in Pakistan are very, very high around this subject of the drones. As I said, it's become very symbolic now, something poisonous in the relationship wean the US and Pakistan.

EMMA ALBERICI: Amnesty has questions the legality of what America is doing with these unmanned aerial devices. Where does the international law stand on the use of drones?

AKBAR AHMED: Well, this is an important question for the international community because today the US has these drones. I raise this in my book but tomorrow I pointed out where the US leads tomorrow, the whole world follows. Tomorrow you will have a lot of countries, take your region, for example. Can you imagine your neighbours suddenly all possessing drones? Do you have these things buzzing over Sydney or one of your bigger cities and you're not able to do anything about it, what happens then? You will have drones, you will have a lot of complications, and you will have the issue of legality, the borders and sovereignty. I think it's high time that a serious discussion took place around the question of drones and again the US, which it is capable of doing, takes the lead on this and points the way forward. Or we're going to be running into a cul-de-sac and major problems in the not too far future.

EMMA ALBERICI: We understand that the two children whose 68 year old grandmother, Mamana Bibi was killed by a drone in Pakistan, are next week going to address the US Congress. What do you think they will say and what impact will their words carry, do you think?

AKBAR AHMED: I think there's a big impact because so far the debate in the US, and I've been involved with it and following it, so far the debate has been almost entirely around the efficiency of the drone as a killing machine, as the smartest technology in the age of globalisation. The idea that it actually kills a lot of people and kills them almost at will and that impact on those people, limbs and heads and skulls and legs blown all over the place and then relatives coming to save these people or procure some of their what remains of them and then they're being blown up as collateral damage or signature strikes or some strange new anonymous technology for this killing, that has not sunk in. So what I tried to do with my book was to connect the two. The efficiency of the drone, which there's there is no doubt of its efficiency, and the deadly impact on tribal societies and then I followed the sequence, what that does to the militants the justification it gives for their kind of violence and the cycle then goes on and on of violence. Now that story needs to be told by the victims themselves. And I think that will have an impact because Americans are essentially very open people, it's an open society. They need to hear the other side and they will react very strongly. You saw how they took Malala Yousafzai, for example, to heart. She's an icon here, almost a legendary person whilst still a teenager. And I think that impact will be made when they hear stories of these teenagers coming from Pakistan.

EMMA ALBERICI: Ambassador Ahmed, there's very much more to talk to you about but unfortunately we're out of time. Thank you so much.

AKBAR AHMED: Thank you, Emma, thank you.