For starters, the sample size of the study is 130 people. In a country of 175 million, that is just not representative. 130 respondents isn't
representative even of the 800,000 or so people in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the region of Pakistan where most drone strikes occur.
Moreover, according to the report's methodology section, there is no indication of how many respondents were actual victims of drone strikes, since among
those 130 they also interviewed "current and former Pakistani government officials, representatives from five major Pakistani political parties, subject
matter experts, lawyers, medical professionals, development and humanitarian workers, members of civil society, academics, and journalists."
The authors did not conduct interviews in the FATA, but Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Peshawar. The direct victims they interviewed were contacted
initially by the non-profit advocacy group Foundation for Fundamental Rights, which is not a neutral observer (their explicit mission is to end the use of
drones in Pakistan). The report relies on a database compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which relies on media accounts for most of its data. The authors discount the utility of relying on media
accounts, since media in Pakistan rely on the Pakistani government for information (reporters are not allowed independent access to the FATA). Even
accepting their description of the BIJ data as the most "reliable," these data are highly suspect.
The Living Under Drones report, in other words, has some serious bias issues. But that doesn't mean it should be discarded: the section on social and
political blowback from drone strikes is well documented and in
line with other research. In summary, the report declares that the use of drones in Pakistan is a campaign of terror, creating severe psychological trauma
among residents of the FATA and creating a pervasive environment of fear.
Left unstated in the report, though, is a bigger question: is there a better alternative to drone strikes for counterterrorism in northwest Pakistan?
It is not a simple one to answer. Looking at how residents in the FATA have behaved in other violent campaigns is instructive. In early 2009, the Pakistani
Army announced its campaign to "clear" the Swat Valley, north of Islamabad, of terrorist groups that had been systematically murdering elders and tribal policemen and destroying hundreds of schools and other government
buildings. As the campaign proceeded, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 300,000 people fled the fighting. By the end of the
campaign, more than 1 million people got displaced by
the army-Taliban fighting in Swat, which left the region completely devastated.
There have been no reported mass movements of people fleeing the drones in the last four years. The mere threat of a Pakistani army offensive into
Waziristan, however, prompts thousands to flee in
terror. There are several possible explanations: for example, people in heavily affected drone areas might be terrified to leave their houses.