FATA is not a country in Africa

Slightly old, but a very insightful piece from Myra MacDonald at Reuters:

FATAU.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is using increasingly forthright terms to describe the spillover of the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in its campaign of drone strikes. “We are fighting a war in the FATA, we are fighting a war against terrorism,” he said during a visit to India. The idea that the United States is at war inside Pakistan, albeit in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, is not new. But the use of language is significant, requiring as Spencer Ackerman noted at Danger Room, “a war-weary (US) public to get used to fighting what’s effectively a third war in a decade, even if this one relies far more on remote controlled robots than ground troops”.

Panetta’s choice of words (and venue for delivering them) may not go down too well with Pakistani authorities in Islamabad/Rawalpindi. It is not particularly promising for the people of FATA either, who find themselves caught in the middle of a shadow war between the United States and Pakistan. But in one respect, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Rarely has the United States fought a war in a place about which it knows so little. If Panetta’s comments force people to learn about FATA, it might even lift us out of what until now has been a polemical debate between supporters and opponents of drone strikes, with little attention paid to the voices of people who actually live there.

For a start, we have to understand that not only are those voices not heard, but they are actively marginalised. For the U.S. administration, arguing that drone attacks are legal, ethical and wise, and a complicit U.S. public, the people on the ground are best dismissed as turbaned, bearded dangerous folks living in “the tribal badlands” (a phrase that really ought to be banned along with “Graveyard of Empires” and “the Great Game”.) For opponents of drones in Pakistan, their voices are marginalised by a virulent strain of anti-Americanism through which political popularity or greater bargaining power in negotiations with the United States can best be attained by whipping up rage about the drone strikes.

Read the rest here.