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US should replace drone strikes in Pakistan with outreach to tribal areas

The Pakistani Taliban's vow to avenge the death of its No. 2 leader – killed by a US drone strike Wednesday – and boycott government peace efforts shows the ineffective nature of US drone policy. The US must stop the strikes and build up tribal regions in Pakistan and other countries.

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Pakistani protesters burn a representation of a US flag to condemn a US drone strike in the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan that killed Taliban leader Waliur Rehman May 30. Op-ed contributors Akbar Ahmed and Harrison Akins write: 'Washington should work with allied central governments within traditional tribal structures to help maintain law and order in tribal areas, rather than continuing...drone strikes...that alienate entire tribal populations.'

M. Abbass/AP

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Praise goes to President Obama for his long-overdue decision to limit drone strikes. But it's clear from this week's strike that killed the Pakistani Taliban's No. 2 leader, Wali-Ur Rehman Mehsud, that the unfortunate program is still operative.

Mr. Obama says that America must end its “perpetual war” on terrorism, but continuing the drone program makes that very difficult to do. Where one terrorist is killed by a drone, a hundred are created in his place. The drone has proven to be an uneconomic, inhuman, and ultimately ineffective method of fighting the war on terror. Case in point: Today, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban has said the group will avenge the death of its leader killed Wednesday and will not participate in government peace initiatives.

The United States has been bearing down on terrorists militarily for more than a decade. What it needs, however, is a comprehensive and long-term political strategy that understands the historical and social context of violence in regions that breed terrorists – particularly in the remote tribal areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Then it must find a way to more effectively deal with tribes.

What America’s intense drone program has shown so far, is that Washington has misunderstood tribal groups and their histories, creating more enemies than supporters. 

Take the example of Tariq al-Fadhli, a leader of Yemen’s southern tribal resistance against the central government. In 2010, he filmed a video of himself and his fellow tribesmen standing at attention before the American flag – the Star Spangled Banner echoing in the background.

Though the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh would accuse Mr. al-Fadhli, a former associate of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan during the 1980s, of being a terrorist, al-Fadhli saw the US as an ally in his struggle against the Yemeni government for an independent South Yemen.

Referring to his days in Afghanistan, al-Fadhli stated, “The Americans were our allies back then, and what I am doing now by raising the American flag is a continuation of this old alliance.”

A year later, al-Fadhli filmed a video of himself burning the American flag. His reasons: He had learned that the US had cluster bombed a village in Yemen’s Abyan Province in 2009 that killed an estimated 55 people, including 21 children and 14 women; he also cited US support for Mr. Saleh’s government.

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