“ Painting their peripheries as associated with Al Qaeda, ” writes Akbar Ahmed in his remarkable new book The Thistle and the Drone: How America ’ s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, “ many countries have sought to join the terror network because of the extensive benefits that it brings.
They use the rhetoric of the war on terror to both justify their oppressive policies and to ingratiate themselves with the United States and the international system ” .This failure to distinguish regional struggles from global militancy allowed many states to harness US power to settle local disputes.
The struggle between a centralising, hierarchical state and a recalcitrant, egalitarian periphery is not simila to Pakistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas ( Fata).
But in his exhaustive study, Ahmed considers 40 cases, ranging from Africa and the Middle East to Eurasia, where the war on terror, or its local franchise, has upset the equilibrium to unpredictable, often atrocious effect.
The drone has been answered by the suicide bomber.Ahmed draws the metaphor of the thistle from Tolstoy ’ s Hadji Murad to represent the resilience and prickliness of tribal society.
The brunt of their fury is borne by communities abutting the tribal region since the tribes lack the means to inflict damage on the US.But the use of drones increases American insecurity in unpredictable ways.
President Barack Obama ’ s drone war is baiting new enemies and swelling the ranks of the old.
They have no desire – or capacity – to hurt America; but they, like their forefathers, are committed to repelling overbearing intruders.If a “ small number of Al Qaeda operatives, in fghanistan and elsewhere, found these tribes to be receptive hosts ”, writes Ahmed, it was partly out of the tribal tradition of hospitality and partly because the tribes had been “ clamouring, or even fighting, for their rights from central governments for decades ”.
The failure to understand this relationship and to discriminate between the two has helped Al Qaeda compensate for its dwindling numbers by harnessing tribal resentments.Pakistan ’ s ersion of the ar has been an unmitigated disaster.
Meanwhile, the drones have spawned their own congressional caucus, with lobbying efforts underwritten by arms manufacturers like General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman.The biggest, most organised interest group, however, is the CIA, which has enjoyed unprecedented influence under Obama.
The periphery has been “ unable to come to ter with this new era ”, writes Ahmed, and “ the prickliest of the clans are the ones now suffering the most ” .This dismal reality will only change if decision makers – and the publics with influence over them – acquire a subtler understanding of regional dynamics and the tribal roots of many of these onflicts.
Ahmed warns against ill-judged US interventions and calls for an end to the drone war.