KARACHI, Pakistan — Since retired Gen. David Petraeus was appointed Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, which oversees the drone program that has been firmly opposed by Pakistan’s military, there has been little love lost between the country and the retired general. So what do ordinary citizens have to say about his sudden exit from the spy agency?
On the streets of Karachi, residents interviewed by GlobalPost this week expressed a mix of suspicion of the “real” reason for Petraeus’s resignation, and admiration for his honesty.
In Karachi’s historic Saddar district, two vegetable vendors spoke about the lessons General Petraeus could teach Pakistan’s leaders.
“For a man to admit that he was wrong, that he did something so horrible to his family is pretty impressive,” said the first. “I can’t believe that he would just go to the President and say ‘I made a mistake’ and ask for forgiveness.”
The other nodded cautiously. “In any case,” he mused, “self accountability is important. In Pakistan, if an MP made a mistake, like for example, faking a college degree, you would never see them take responsibility for their actions. I think he’s a brave man.”
The two men had learned from an Urdu-language BBC News broadcast that Petraeus resigned his leadership of the CIA last week after knowledge of his extramarital affair became public. Both felt the affair wasn’t a big enough reason for Petraeus to have resigned, and talk in the market revolved around ulterior motives for Petraeus’s resignation.
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“We’re hopeful that this means less drones,” said Faiza Mumtaz, a student of political science at Karachi University who was shopping at the market. “Although it is the United States, and we’re never sure that they’re telling the world the truth.”
Other shoppers agreed. “I think that what’s more likely is that Petraeus and Obama had a disagreement on what they wanted out of the CIA. I mean, it’s suspicious that the news about his affair came so close after Obama’s election. Who knows what this is about.”
The CIA’s use of drone strikes has been extremely unpopular in Pakistan. Citizens believe that the US government’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles, as they are formally known, threatens Pakistan’s sovereignty, and many activists protesting against the strikes view Obama’s reelection with trepidation.
“I think that the one thing that we all know,” said Hakim Amir, an employee of a wealthy Pakistani family who was purchasing meat at the market, “is that Obama is a huge fan of drone strikes. If someone were to challenge that, they’d probably get the boot.”
Amir, who was born in Pakistan’s northwest, blames the US president for robbing him of a family; his brother was killed in a drone strike last year.
In his first four years in office, Obama authorized nearly 300 drone strikes in Pakistan, more than six times the number during the administration of George Bush, according to the New America Foundation policy institute. Since 2004, a total of 337 US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,908 and 3,225 people.
But one of the vegetable vendors thought perhaps Petraeus’s resignation really was personal. “Maybe he was a just a man who fell in love,” says the first. “I’d like to see a photograph of his lady.”
The second one has a slightly different take. “The fact is that the CIA works in many other countries that are not Pakistan” he reasons. “Maybe he and Obama disagreed about one of those countries. Here, we don’t think the drone strikes will stop.”