Correlation

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by Joshua Foust on 2/20/2012 · 6 comments

2011 saw a substantial decrease in drone strikes in Pakistan. According to numbers assembled by the New America Foundation, strikes fell from a high of 118 in 2010 to 70 in 2011 — a 40% decrease (there were no drone strikes in December because of an errant U.S. artillery strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers). Today, the New York Times reports on another bit of news that correlates with the decrease in drone strikes: fewer suicide bombings.

The kidnappings are continuing even as Pakistani security forces have seemed to blunt the militants’ ability to inflict mass casualties: suicide attacks fell by 35 percent in 2011, according to the annual report of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, while the number of people killed in attacks fell from 3,021 in 2009 to 2,391 last year.

But the lull may be temporary, experts warn, and meanwhile the militants are filling their coffers with ransom money.

I’m really curious who these experts are and what they base that on (especially if it’s more than just a feeling). Interestingly, too, the number and rate of kidnappings, which is the subject of the article, have remained relatively constant over time (Declan Walsh, the author, rightly notes that kidnapping for ransom has a very long history in Northwest Pakistan, in contrast to suicide bombing, which does not).

Still, correlation is not causation and all these numbers could be responding to things we just don’t know or see. Pakistanis, however, are drawing conclusions from this correlation, and it’s been driving public anti-American sentiment for quite some time now. Though policymakers might think the effects are worth the cost, the cost seems to have risen substantially, especially as Pakistan implodes on itself and American influence and capacity for constraining the outcome hits another all-time low. Is that worth it? We won’t know for a while, but it’s an awfully big gamble.

Chart comes from the New America Foundation’s drone tracker.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 6 comments }

Rob Crilly February 20, 2012 at 9:40 am

The slowdown in drone strikes would seem to be linked to the breakdown in relations between the US and Pakistan at several times in the past year. Each one – Raymond Davis, May 2 and Salalah – prompted a pause in attacks.

Joshua Foust February 20, 2012 at 9:42 am

Yes, agreed. I don’t think there’s much dispute about *why* the U.S. paused drone strikes (namely when it felt they had endangered or needlessly stressed relations). But other phenomena have accompanied drone strike pauses as well, and that’s what I’m wondering about here.

Global_Bearings February 20, 2012 at 11:06 am

Perhaps little far fetched. In any event completely untestable.

More to the point may be growing fragmentation of TTP, killing of major operational leaders (Kashmiri), stepped up PAKMIL assaults in Kurram, S. Waz etc in 2011

AND

Clearly the deal with the Haqqanis/TTP was not brokered overnight.. PAKMIL must have been in talks for several months, part of which may have led militants to pause attacks

Joshua Foust February 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm

It’s actually not untestable, it’s just hard to test. You can identify and control for all of the alternative explanations you identified here.

papicek February 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm

What I like about this post is the refusal to draw conclusions from two pieces of disparate data. Wish economists would learn that trick.

anan February 21, 2012 at 8:32 pm

A large number of Pakistani civilians are still being killed by terrorist attacks. Especially Shiites [to include Kurram Agency and Hazaras.] Violence hasn’t fallen that much, yet. Its premature to celebrate.

Part of the Pakistani Army strategy seems to be to help Sirajuddin Haqqani increase his influence over TTP and TNSM. Is this working?

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