I’ve always wondered why (thus far limited and incomplete) data suggest that anti-drone sentiment is higher in Pakistan’s urban areas than it is near locations where the strikes are most prevalent. The ISQ paper has something to say about this, even though it relies on a Pew survey and not geographic variation. Pew did not survey in FATA, and I hear that scholars are now collecting better, more fine-grained data. In any case, the paper’s main argument is that attitudes are formed not because of direct exposure to violence but because of information gleaned through news reporting:
We hypothesized that the primary driver of opposition to drone strikes was the anti-drone discourse in the popular media. Since most Pakistanis’ only source of information on the drone program is the Urdu-language media, they are exposed to a steady stream of negative stories about the drone strikes. We expected that the most-educated Pakistanis would be more likely to support the drone strikes because they tend to have access to more-varied sources of information (some of them in English) and are thus exposed to the pro-drone arguments presented in more sophisticated Pakistani media sources, as well as in foreign media. The results of the analysis bear out our argument. Pakistanis who have little education are most likely to be opposed to the drone strikes. Pakistani women, who are generally poorly educated and excluded from political discussions, tend to be more negative about the drones than men, as we expected.
The first aspect of the study that surprised me was the finding that Islamist tendencies (measured with respect to support for the idea that Islam should be an important part of politics in the country) are not associated with either anti- or pro-drone attitudes. My prior research had argued that Pakistan’s Islamist parties are deeply suspicious of Western and especially American encroachment on sovereignty in any form, so I expected otherwise. The authors do find that those who view the US as an enemy are more likely to view drones negatively, but I would have guessed that anti-Americanism is correlated with Islamist tendencies given the content of policy pronouncements of religious parties in the country.
I was also surprised by the way the authors frame the results. If their informational story is right, they suggest, American public diplomacy can matter. In making calls for more accountability for targeted killing programs, I have in the past discounted the possible benefit of changing Pakistani minds, since views in Lahore and Karachi seemed to me to be set irreversibly against drones. If it is just a matter of exposure to different reasoning than that found in Urdu-language media, though, I could be wrong. Of course, just because the US can manage Pakistani discontent doesn’t mean the drone campaigns should continue, but that discontent is widely thought to be a major long-term drawback.