Silent, fearful support for US drones in tribal Pakistan

While Pakistani govt routinely denounces US drone strikes, locals say that a sizeable number of people in the country`s tribal areas support them.

Peshawar: While the Pakistani government routinely denounces US drone strikes, locals say that a sizeable number of people in the country`s tribal areas support them -- but the threat of Taliban reprisals makes them too terrified to speak out.

Pakistan`s lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border have borne the brunt of the US drone campaign since 2004, with hundreds of missile strikes targeting suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Islamabad condemns them as a violation of sovereignty and counterproductive to efforts to combat militancy, while rights campaigners -- and the Pakistani public -- rail against them for killing civilians.

Anyone who does speak out in favour of the drones in the tribal areas runs the risk of being kidnapped, tortured and murdered by militants -- their agonising last moments captured on camera.

"Anybody who supports drone strikes, they will try to kill him. They will say that person is pro-American, a friend of the Jews," Gul Wali Wazir -- not his real name -- from South Waziristan tribal area said.

"They will cut his throat or shoot him, They will film his false confession, kill him and leave the body on the road with a DVD and a note saying that anybody who supports America and drones will face the same fate.

"I have seen a dozen such dead bodies."

"US spies" are targeted by a special militant unit, the Ittehad-e-Mujahideen Khorasan, and grisly DVDs of their last moments distributed.

In one seen by AFP, a young man to admits planting a bugging chip in a car in return for $200.

After a decade of the CIA-run programme, no region in the world has been hit by more strikes than Pakistan`s tribal areas -- a rugged, dirt-poor region roughly the size of Belgium.

Ten days ago, one of the remote-controlled missiles eliminated the feared Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

The area is off-limits to foreign journalists and aid groups, so the precise number and identity of those killed by drones is difficult to establish with certainty.

The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 2,528 and 3,644 people have been killed in 378 drone strikes in Pakistan, including 416-948 civilians.

A survey by the New America Foundation in 2010 found that a sizeable proportion of people -- more than one in five -- in the tribal areas backed drone strikes, and a number of experts interviewed by AFP spoke of an increasing trend to support them.