The US isn’t the first Western nation to bomb Waziristan. As you note, the British did it in the 1920s. Do these campaigns have anything in common?
Yes, there are some things in common. Let me point out a difference first: the historian Priya Satia has observed that for the British creating terror through “air policing” — what it was called then — was considered humane because it would terrorize people into submission and therefore minimize the number of people they’d actually have to kill, or so they reasoned. For the US, that discourse has been replaced by claims about precision, accuracy and surgical strikes.
But, of course, the buzzing of the drones does create terror, particularly among those who have already been attacked or seen an attack. That’s the simplest link. More interestingly, there’s a kind of technophilia that’s part of the British and American effort. It has been part of the fantasy of empire ever since flight became a possibility. It’s the belief that flight — whether by airplanes or drones — can make total control of a territory possible. It’s the idea that flight equals omniscience, that territory is transparent, and that all one needs to do in order to understand it, is to see it by air. The British made that mistake, and the Americans are making it now. They have their heads in the clouds. They have failed to grasp the link between the violence they inflict and the response that they get. The British wrote off rebellions as part of the alleged innate savagery of Pashtuns rather than a reaction to their brutal colonial rule. The US now presumes the right to be the global policeman, to occupy and destroy entire countries, but then wonders “why do they hate us?” This is a question that reflects the utter, willful blindness of American power.
This is not to say that those fighting against the Americans in Afghanistan are simply anti-colonial warriors, because the insurgents have been ruthless to Waziris and Pakistanis more generally. But, at the level of imperial politics, there is a definite link between what the British did and what the US is attempting to do now.